Back in the spring, Montana had the opportunity to elect a new congressman after our previous one, Ryan Zinke, was appointed Secretary of the Interior. Greg Gianforte, a businessman who hadn’t previously held public office and unsuccessfully ran for governor in the fall, prevailed. Throughout the election, parents paid special attention to each candidates views on environmental issues, wanting to know how the candidates responses would affect their children’s future.
In Montana, I’ve found it doesn’t matter which party you belong to – everyone feels strongly about protecting the environment. When you are raising kids in a state that houses Glacier National Park’s soaring peaks and Yellowstone’s tumbling rivers, you understand the importance of preservation is paramount. In fact, our state constitution grants residents the right to a clean and healthful environment. But energy production has long been a fundamental part of the state’s economy, and debates between those protecting the environment and the energy sector routinely crop up.
Where my newly sworn-in Representative Greg Gianforte stands in these debates, however, is difficult to determine. As a mother, I am wary that his murky positions won’t guarantee my children that clean and healthy environment they are promised.
On the one hand, Gianforte has told us that he supports “clean coal,” telling Lee newspapers back in April, “Coal will continue to be a significant part of our nation’s energy portfolio and we must make investments in clean technology.”
But days before, we heard him praise President Trump for ending the Clean Power Plan (CPP), stating, “This is a decisive victory as we continue to fight the war on coal. I applaud President Trump’s decision to repeal the EPA’s job-killing energy regulations because it protects Montana jobs and gives Colstrip a fighting chance to keep the lights on.” The effect of this refusal to clean up our dirtiest energy source will have on our children doesn’t seem to factor into what he supports.
Gianforte’s belief that jobs will be saved by dismantling the CPP is misguided. While mining has historically been a significant part of our state’s economy, it now employs only 1,100 people across the state. Coal employment is declining across the country, and the CPP included provisions which would have helped retrain workers in coal-based towns like Colstrip.
I fear that Gianforte’s lack of support for clean energy initiatives may come down to his hazy views on climate change. In one interview, he acknowledges humans impact the earth’s climate, admitting “The climate is changing.” In another, he waivers, stating, “The climate is always changing,” adding he believes it has little to do with coal. Yet, coal produces more planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions than any other fossil fuel energy source.
As parents, we are also worried about the health and well-being of our children, so concern about the climate isn’t the only reason to support the Clean Power Plan. The CPP is estimated to cut carbon pollution 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Not only would this have poised the United States as a leader in reducing carbon emissions, it would have resulted in 3,600 fewer premature deaths, 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and 1,700 fewer hospital admissions, which would save $45 billion a year in 2030.
I’ve heard Gianforte say, “I believe we can develop natural resources and protect the environment. We need to find that balance – too often it’s just one side or the other.” But whether our new Congressman will be able to find that balance in his policy remains to be seen.
I don’t want my children saddled with this “wait and see” burden. As the ultimate efficacy of clean coal initiatives remain to be seen, the dire effects of unmitigated pollution – asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke – are clear.
Montanan moms and dads like me aren’t going to just wait and see if our elected representatives will support reducing pollution – we are going to make our voices heard. Please join Montana moms and dads on Saturday, September 16, 9:00am-4:00pm for a “Play-In for Climate Action” in Helena, in conjunction with the Clean Energy Fair and Sun Run. Location: Lewis and Clark Library, 120 S. Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT. Contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or to RSVP.