Montana is the epicenter of what could be the battle between natural resources and a clean environment.
Granted, that's probably a false choice. It shouldn't be an either-or situation, but the truth is that too often natural resource extraction is pitted against the environment and vice versa.
A raft of environmental policy rollbacks from the Trump administration are beginning to take effect, and a new analysis by The Associated Press shows that it's not just about cutting through some bureaucratic red tape and eliminating some words in federal code. Instead, the rollbacks, largely centered on regulating the energy industry, could have devastating consequences for Americans, the environment and public health.
Because we live in a place where those two things — natural resources and the environment — collide at times, it's important that we find a balance. Our state depends on a healthy energy industry. But, we've also seen the devastating effects of wildfire, drought and flooding — proof of climate change.
We believe that some of the energy standards needs reconsideration. The Obama-era crackdown on carbon emissions seemed to unfairly target Montana, and put pressure on an already stressed power generation industry. That was a prime example of how regulation may have been too burdensome.
Yet, we also believe that our state's No. 1 and No. 2 industries — agriculture and tourism — cannot thrive on a destroyed or imperiled environment. That's why we must consider the new report about the consequences of the Trump administration's rollbacks, as reported by The Associated Press:
- Up to 1,400 additional premature deaths annually due to the pending repeal of a rule to cut coal plant pollution.
- An increase in greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 billion tons from vehicles produced over the next decade — a figure equivalent to annual emissions of almost 200 million vehicles.
- Increased risk of water contamination from a drilling technique known as "fracking."
- Fewer safety checks to prevent offshore oil spills.
Given the catastrophic wildfire seasons places like Montana and California have experienced, it's certainly questionable, if not irresponsible to roll these rules back without further exploration of these consequences. Furthermore, a recent report says that ice is being lost six times faster in Antarctica than in the 1980s.
Given the large cities on both sides of America's coast, rolling back energy regulations and consuming more fossil fuels would seem to only exacerbate the problem of climate change.
With the risk to water, life and environment, we believe it's time for Congress to tap the brakes on some of these regulations. In fact, it's probably time that our lawmakers enshrine some of these rules and policies into law so that they are not political yo-yos to be changed with every successive presidential administration.
We are concerned that wildfires like the kind in Montana and California will continue to become more common, and we'll see the state's coffers ruined by disaster, rather than reinvested in new technologies and better ways to help their communities than by sending firefighters or people to clean up after floods.
Rolling back regulations may make companies happy, but that's cold comfort for the people who can't breathe the air or drink the water.