HELENA — In Montana’s high-profile U.S. Senate race, there may be no starker contrast between Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and his main challenger, Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, than on energy and environmental issues and interest groups active in the race.
Oil, gas, coal and other energy interests have been pouring money into Rehberg’s campaign coffers, and regard him as a reliable friend who favors policies that encourage traditional energy development.
As of June 30, energy-related individuals and groups had contributed at least $632,000 to his campaign, or 11 percent of every dime he’s raised since entering the race 19 months ago. The numbers are compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, two nonpartisan groups that track campaign money.
These energy interests also gave at least $170,000 to Tester, or less than 2 percent of his total.
Support for Tester
Tester is strongly supported by environmental interests. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a top environmental lobby, has used its GiveGreen.com website to raise $150,000 for Tester, and has spent another $1.16 million on independent expenditures supporting Tester, including a $410,000 TV ad buy in July to attack Rehberg.
The Center for Responsive Politics says that among U.S. Senate candidates, Tester is the No. 1 recipient of environmentalist money — although the dollar amount, about $200,000, is a fraction of his total $9.3 million raised.
According to CRP, environmental and conservation interests have given virtually nothing to Rehberg.
Rehberg says energy interests support him because he believes in a “balanced, true, all-of-the-above energy solution” that recognizes that oil, gas, coal and renewable power should all be part of America’s energy mix.
The majority of Montanans agree with that approach, too, he says — but environmental groups do not, and generally want to stop or slow fossil-fuel development.
“The energy industry knows that I have a clear understanding of the balance needed for a reasonable approach, and an economic future (for Montana),” he says.
Air, water protections
Tester says he, too, supports the “all of the above” energy approach, but, unlike Rehberg, is an advocate for strong air and water protections, which is also important to Montanans, and sometimes opposes the fossil-fuel industry, as in voting against extending tax breaks for large oil companies.
“Sometimes I agree with conservationists, sometimes I don’t,” Tester says, noting that he supports construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that is opposed by LCV and many environmental interests. “I think they want someone who will be thoughtful and be responsible, and that’s why I get support from a pretty broad base of folks. …
“On the other side of the coin, you’ve got Congressman Rehberg, who, when the oil companies say jump, he says ‘How high?’ He’s voted with them in lockstep every single time.”
Ratings of each man’s voting record by LCV and a key petroleum group show the disparity on these issues. The ratings are based on how often a member of Congress agrees on key votes chosen by each interest group.
Rehberg has a 96 percent career rating by the Independent Petroleum Association of America; Tester’s rating is 13 percent. Votes for IPAA’s position include prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, allowing offshore oil leasing, opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and approving the Keystone XL pipeline.
Tester has a career rating of 86 percent from the League of Conservation Voters; Rehberg’s is only 5 percent. Votes for LCV’s position include stopping regulatory rollbacks, ending ethanol subsidies, stopping a bill that would block regulation of global-warming emissions and increasing fuel economy.
While Tester says he listens to all sides, the coal and petroleum lobbies do not regard Tester as sympathetic.
“I support Denny Rehberg because he’s been supportive of the issues that are important to the oil and gas industry, and I have not seen that level of support from Tester,” says Dave Galt, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, which, as a group, doesn’t endorse candidates.
Galt said that while Tester voted for the Keystone XL pipeline, he also voted for a bill that would have prohibited exporting products refined from that oil, a position the industry opposes.
Bud Clinch, executive director of the Montana Coal Council, says his group doesn’t endorse candidates, either, but that coal companies don’t view Tester as an ally.
“There is a marked difference between his voting record and philosophical positions and what Congressman Rehberg’s are,” he said.
Conservation groups are equally critical of Rehberg.
Theresa Keaveny, executive director of Montana Conservation Voters, says Rehberg takes a hard line against almost all environmental issues and shows no willingness to compromise.
“He is the environmental extremist,” she says of Rehberg. “He’s an extremist who doesn’t work across the aisle . … I think Senator Tester’s record is closer to the beliefs of Montanans.”
For his part, Rehberg has a similar view of environmental lobbies, saying they seldom, if ever, will consider changes to laws like the Endangered Species Act or other protective laws, to help those laws work better for industry.
These lobbies are supporting Tester and Montanans should know that, Rehberg says.
“Guys like Jon can say he supports the Keystone pipeline, yet his No. 1 contributor is the League of Conservation Voters, who are the No. 1 opponent to the Keystone pipeline,” Rehberg says. “You can’t have it both ways.”
Tester audibly laughs when he hears Rehberg’s claim that conservation groups won’t compromise, and points to his forest-jobs-wilderness bill, which was the product of compromise by loggers, mill owners and some environmental groups – and that Rehberg helped kill.
The bill would have created new wilderness areas in Montana while directing the Forest Service to manage some wooded areas for logging over the next 15 years. Rehberg said it should require logging first, before creating wilderness.
“In order to compromise, you have to listen,” Tester says. “I don’t see that from him at all. … He has made it clear through many of his statements, that he’s not big on compromise.”