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Montana Candidates: Climate Change

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

In spite of a history of political divisiveness over the issue, a growing public outcry is calling for leaders to address climate change on a local, national and global scale. In Montana, the issue of climate change has been looming in the background for decades – but it’s becoming harder to ignore.

“We are at a turning point, especially with an administration that has rolled back so many of our environmental protections already. We need our elected folks at the Federal and State level to protect the interest of Montanans and our strong outdoor heritage. That is what drives Montanans,” says Whitney Tawney, deputy director for the group Montana Conservation Voters.

“As Montanans, we have a history of wanting better from our elected officials when it comes to the environment because we all really care,” Tawney says. “We are the crown jewel of America in terms of the accessibility of our land and water, and the cleanness of our air.”

In Montana, climate change is already a threat to our agricultural and outdoor economy, says Montana Environmental Information Center’s clean energy program director Brian Fadie.

“There are tens of thousands of jobs at stake and hundreds of millions of dollars that the state sees from those sectors – and they are at great risk because of climate change,” Fadie says.

“With that in mind, the question for politicians is, ‘What are you going to do to put us on the right track?’”

While some politicians continue to ignore or deny the mounting evidence of a warming climate, others say they are ready to take action. In the following interviews, Montana gubenatorial candidate Mike Cooney; U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams and U.S. Senate candidate Steve Bullock weigh in on climate issues and outline their plans to move Montana toward a more sustainable future.

While both Democratic and Republican candidates for Governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House were contacted and given time to respond with verbatim answers or an interview, only the Democratic candidates consented to interviews on the subject.

The interviews are part of a Montana Press Monthly series that first explored climate change in Glacier National Park in the July 2019 issue. “The End of the Glaciers: Climate Change and Glacier Park,” traces the stories of rangers, ecologists, biologists, Park managers and policy-makers to reveal the effects of climate change in the current era of Park management.

The series continued in November 2019 with “Change on the Range: Montana Farmers and Ranchers Build Resiliency in the age of Climate Change,” a look at at how farmers and ranchers are seeking solutions in the light of changing climate conditions and increasing climate variability.

The January 2020 issue features “Sustaining the Slopes: Efforts by Montana Ski Areas to Combat Climate Change,” which examines the effects of climate variability on Montana’s ski industry. The story includes interviews and perspectives from various ski areas that are preparing for changing climate to impact their future operations.

In the current installment of this series, Montana Press poses questions to statewide candidates about issues at the forefront of Montanans’ concerns about climate change and variability. The same questions were asked of all the candidates, even the ones who chose not to respond. The queries address conservation, public land use and wilderness preservation as well as the effects of climate change on economic sectors in Montana.

The Montana Press has reached out to other newspapers and news outlets across the state to encourage their editors and reporters to obtain answers to the following questions from the candidates who declined to be interviewed for this series.

—Breeana Laughlin


U.S. House of Representatives

Candidates for U.S. House are Kathleen Williams, three-term Montana State Representative, and Matt Rosendale, Montana State Auditor.

Montana Press: How would you use your time in office as governor to address the impacts of climate change, and what conservation or sustainability issues will be your priorities if you are elected?

Kathleen Williams: My career has been almost four decades in natural resources problem solving - bringing people together to find win-win-win solutions to really thorny issues, with a specialty in water.

I’ve been on the front lines of climate change. I’ve seen earlier runoff and hotter, drier, longer summers and a more intense fire season, just like other Montanans - especially farmers who are seeing the differences over their generation and previous generations. So, we need to address this issue. We need to find ways to capitalize on the way that we address it. I think we need to make sure that we are ahead of the energy consumers of the future. We are an energy-exporting state and we’ve already been affected by changing markets and changing demands from energy consumers that we sell to. They want cleaner, more renewable, affordable energy. We need to get ahead of that curve and make sure that we have the workforce and the renewable energy stream that are going to be demanded in the future as they are starting to be now.

One recent newspaper story that concerned me was that one of the investors pulling out of Colstrip; a West Coast Company is instead investing in wind in Wyoming. I saw that and I thought, ‘Why, did we lose them to Wyoming?’ We should be ensuring that investment not only stays here, but that new investment comes here. I want to be ahead of that curve.

I think another part of being ahead of that curve is working to electrify our transportation sector. That would involve all kinds of new infrastructure jobs. The transportation sector is actually the highest greenhouse-gas emitting. So, by doing that, we’re creating that new economy for the future and energy uses of the future while also benefiting our economy.

One other aspect of my strategy is to work with agricultural producers on soil health. If we can increase soil health, we actually can capture more carbon than the transportation sector emits, and we can help farmers and ranchers diversify their income. So, again, I always look for win-win-win solutions.

MP: Do you have plans to safeguard Montana’s industries that contribute significantly to Montana’s economy and also rely on clean air and water, like agriculture and tourism?

Williams: I’ve been doing that my entire career in Montana. I’ve been working to balance the needs of water users with the health of our streams. It takes an absolute personal commitment and a professional commitment, as well as the skills and knowledge to be able to make those balances.

My opponent, part of his economic plan, is to industrialize our public lands and to roll back regulations that don’t directly involve safety. Those are the regulations that protect our clean air and water, and so I think there’s a real stark contrast between myself and my opponent in that regard.

MP: During your career, has there been a particular piece of legislation or issue that you supported? And on the other side, have you opposed any environmental legislation and why?

Williams: I’ve supported legislation that contributes to an even playing field with business, that ensures that we keep things clean rather than the more expensive option of having to clean things up later.

I’m trying to think of environmental legislation that I opposed. Well, you know the Green New Deal is not something that I have supported in full.

MP: Is that because you don’t feel like it’s in a good spot or you want to work on something different?

Williams: Well, it’s a top-down approach. I want to do what Montanans are most interested in, and that’s healthcare and fostering opportunity and protecting our outdoor heritage. I’m not really interested in top-down federal regulatory or federally-driven set of policies. I really enjoy working with Montanans to craft things that are unique to Montana and really respond to those issues.

MP: How will you set up Montana to be able to take advantage of the transition occurring in the renewable energy sector as fossil fuels become less economically viable?

Williams: We need to look forward. I’m very solution-oriented rather than political talking points or dogma-oriented. When we see trends, we need to get ahead of them and capitalize on them. And one of those trends is the demand for cleaner, more renewable energy. So we can create the workforce and the economy that protects the resource-dependent communities and also capitalizes on those new opportunities.

MP: How would you support access to public lands in Montana? And would you safeguard against land transfers that could lead to selling off of public lands? Under what circumstance?

Williams: Absolutely. I mean, my opponent has advocated for transferring public lands and that just shows how out of step he is with an issue that is incredibly cross partisan here. Montanans love their outdoor heritage. I do. I’m a hunter, I’m an angler. I go outdoors to get my renewal and to hone my skills and learn the way of nature, and build family and friendship.

I think anyone who has suggested at any time to transfer our public lands is incredibly out of touch with Montana values. So, not only will I keep them from being transferred, but I also disagree with my opponent who wants to industrialize them and basically prioritize short-term profits over long-term health. Certainly, we need to have very frank and important discussions about public land management and to ensure that the agencies have the resources they need in a changing climate. And then, as I look out the window at the smoky skies, we need to be talking about what does the future of public land management look like?

It’s not about transferring, it’s not about industrializing, and I know what Montanans want. They want those lands protected, accessible, and healthy.

Matt Rosendale did not respond to requests for an interview.


U.S. Senate

Candidates for U.S. Senate include Steve Bullock, the current Governor of Montana, and incumbent Senator Steve Daines.

Montana Press: How would you use your time as senator to address the impacts of climate change? What conservation or sustainability issues will be priorities for you if elected?

Steve Bullock: Montanans are outdoors folks. Our fire seasons are 40 days longer now than they were 30 years ago, and our farmers are seeing changes in their planting seasons. From our way of life to our economy, we’re already experiencing the effects of climate change. That’s why I took real steps towards renewable energy. I doubled Montana’s wind power and quadrupled our solar power generation while in office. We can address climate while creating good jobs and not leaving our communities behind.

In the Senate, some of my other conservation priorities include supporting made-in-Montana conservation legislation like the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act and the Badger Two-Medicine Protection Act, so our kids and grandkids have the same opportunities to go out and enjoy the public lands that we grew up on.

MP: Do you have plans to safeguard Montana’s industries that contribute significantly to Montana’s economy and also rely on clean air and water, like agriculture and tourism?

Bullock: There’s no doubt about it —public lands are some of our state’s biggest economic drivers. It’s important that we give businesses and other industries that rely on our public lands the tools they need to be successful. That’s why I created the Office of Outdoor Recreation to help our state best use and support the $7.1 billion that’s brought in through tourism and recreation and the more than 71,000 jobs created through Montana’s outdoor economy.

For our farmers and ranchers, I’ll fight to make sure that they get a fair price for their goods and a market to sell them. But when four companies control 80% of processing, they don’t get that fair price. That’s why it’s high-time we take on market consolidation at the federal level. In the Senate, I’ll continue to stand up for Montana’s agricultural producers and support our outdoor economy, just like I have as your Governor.

MP: During your career, has there been a particular piece of environmental/conservation legislation or issue that you supported, sponsored or spearheaded? Which environmental legislation or issue have you opposed? Why?

Bullock: You know, I started out my career in public service as a lawyer in the office of Montana Attorney General Joe Mazurek taking on special interests who wanted to limit our access to our rivers and streams –– and I won. We’ve been able to bring Democrats and Republicans together to get real things done for Montanans, but I’m really glad that we were able to restore funding to the Habitat Montana program, which protects wildlife habitats across the state and supports conservation-minded ranchers, farmers, and private landowners. It was a great step forward in conserving important wildlife areas and supporting our outdoor economy.

I stood up to the Obama Administration on things like Waters of the US and the Clean Power Plan when their policies went too far and weren’t in the best interests of all Montanans. I’ve always said that I’ll work with anyone and stand up to anyone if it’s what’s right for our state. Throughout my time in office, I’ve worked hard to protect and expand access to our public lands for all Montanans. I’ll keep doing the same when I get to the Senate.

MP: How will you set up Montana to be able to take advantage of the transition occurring in the renewable energy sector as fossil fuels become less economically viable?

Bullock: While I was in office, I created an Energy Blueprint that laid a path for the state to expand clean energy solutions, quadrupling the state’s installed solar capacity and doubling wind generation –– with more clean energy projects in the works.

At the same time, I stood up to Washington Democrats who have tried to dictate Montana’s energy future and have demanded fair treatment for Montana’s coal industry and workers. That is why I led an effort with 17 other states and worked directly with the Dept. of Energy to find innovative ways to continue to use coal as a cleaner energy source.

In the Senate, I will never turn my back on hardworking Montanans and their families. I’ll explore new ways to use coal as an energy source while limiting our impact on the environment through carbon capture and sequestration. And I will make sure that those who have powered our nation for decades are first in line for new energy jobs. We owe it to them.

I’ll keep fighting for policies that support both Montana’s workers and environment in the Senate, while creating good-paying jobs.

MP: How would you support access to public lands in Montana? Would you safeguard against land transfers that could lead to selling off of public lands? Under what circumstance?

Bullock: Public lands are one of our great equalizers. We need to make sure our public lands have the protections and resources they need so that future generations can enjoy these lands as well. I’ll push for real action at the federal level to expand access to our public lands and make sure that they have the support that they need.

In the Senate, I’ll oppose any and all attempts to transfer or sell off our public lands, and stand up to public officials and corporate interests who try to threaten them. It’s what I’ve done my entire career, and that won’t change once I get to Washington.

Senator Steve Daines declined any form of interview.


Governor of Montana

Candidates for Governor include Mike Cooney, current Lt. Governor of Montana and the incumbent U.S. Congressman from Montana, Greg Gianforte.

Montana Press: How would you use your time in office as governor to address the impacts of climate change, and what conservation or sustainability issues will be your priorities if you are elected?

Mike Cooney: First of all, I think it’s important to understand that Montanans know that our climate is changing because they frankly can see it in front of their own eyes. How glaciers are melting, crop seasons are becoming more unpredictable and we’ve seen fire seasons growing longer and more expensive and the destruction is only increasing.

So across the state, I think there’s a great deal of agreement from folks – including farmers, ranchers, outdoors women and men, students – that Montana needs to take action to protect what we have for future generations. I do think that it is an incredibly important issue. It’s essential that we do rely on the science behind climate change while making the decisions to reflect Montana values.

MP: Do you have plans to safeguard Montana’s industries that contribute significantly to the economy and also rely on clean air and water like agriculture and tourism?

Cooney: We need to remember that our outdoor economy continues to be incredibly important and it grows. The last number I saw, our outdoor economy brings in over $7 billion – and about 70,000 new jobs are attached to that. That’s big. Anything we do that upsets that has additional negative impact on our economy. We need to continue to grow our outdoor economy and do everything we can to make sure that we’re building on our success and not doing things that will harm it.

I’ve also had a chance to talk with a number of folks in agriculture, and I know they’re concerned about a changing climate. I’ve been involved as the Chairman of the Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee. We’ve worked very hard with local communities on how they can be more resilient. These discussions and these plans need to be developed locally.

We need to do more to work with communities to help build resiliency throughout the state so that we’re not addressing these issues too late and we’re prepared for it. We can have a plan that when the drought occurs, we know how to use those very precious resources that we have so we can sustain our community needs.

MP: During your career, has there been a particular piece of legislation or an issue that you supported, sponsored or spearheaded? And on the other side, have there been any environmental legislation that you have opposed and why?

Cooney: When I was in the House early on, we were dealing with a lot of information, a lot of environmental legislation in the ‘70s – everything from the Major Facility Siting Act to water quality. One of the issues that I was very involved in, and I actually drafted a resolution was when the federal government talked a lot about what to do with nuclear waste. There was talk about looking for a state or a location in the country where it was fairly rural, not heavily populated, where they might be able to look at building a nuclear waste repository.

There was a lot of word out there on the street that Montana may be right for that and I wrote legislation that said that Montana would deal with any nuclear waste that we produced. We did not want the federal government to continue to look at Montana as a site for a national repository. And again, working with Republicans and Democrats, we were able to pass that piece of legislation and at least get Montana’s position out there, front and center.

If there was anything that I voted against environmental, I think there may have been bills to change some of the Major Facility Siting Act or the MEPA, Montana Environmental Protection Act, over the course of the years that I did vote against. But I voted against them because I thought they were moving Montana in the wrong direction and it wasn’t where we wanted to go. I wanted to defend Montana’s position. They were bills that would weaken what I thought were very good, strong, well-thought-out pieces of legislation.

MP: How would you set up Montana to be able to take advantage of the transition occurring in the renewable energy sector as fossil fuels become less economically viable?

Cooney: We have been an energy leader throughout our history, and whether it was starting when Butte was producing copper to electrify the United States and many parts of the world to our oil and gas and coal development that has really been a part of our economy and has really supported a lot of families throughout the years in Montana. But, now we see that market changing and things changing. We can decide now to lead or to follow.

I think Montana should really be the leader in this. And we can do it by supporting policies that encourage efficient use of our energy and to help us reduce some of the most significant costs facing all Montanans. We can provide incentives that encourage the development of our wind and solar resources. There are good paying jobs as we make this transition.

MP: How would you support access to public lands in Montana? And would you safeguard against land transfers that could lead to selling off of public lands?

Cooney: I do oppose the transfer of federal lands to the state, because quite honestly it would put such a burden on the state to try to properly manage them. I don’t know that we would ever have the resources to do it. And I think that sort of an action is just a dir direct attempt for states to sell those lands off.

I can tell you if we were ever put in that position and had to do that, it wouldn’t be average Montanans looking at buying those lands. It would be rich out of state interests that would be interested in buying those lands and closing them off. I mean, we’re talking like 250,000 acres in Montana. That would be a huge problem for us.

My record on public lands is pretty crystal clear. My opponent came here from New Jersey and sued the people of Montana to prevent Montanans to have access to a very popular public fishing access site near his home. He just didn’t want to have to deal with looking at fishermen out the window of his million-dollar mansion.

Congressman Greg Gianforte declined any form of interview.

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