Bush Administration Actively Fights Environment in Montana

The environment is one of those issues most voters say they care deeply about, though when they get to the polls they subordinate their green leanings for strongly-held opinions on more salient issues. But when the Bush administration begins to actively seek to overturn states' environmental regulations, going against the traditionally conservative states' rights position, it could be the case that voters -- particularly those in states directly affected by the White House's actions -- will actually base their vote at least in part on the environment.

With the Bush administration pushing Montana to water down some of its sensible environmental regulations, as The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin reports, we'll have a chance to see if Montanans will indeed voice their opposition to corporatist bureaucrats in Washington trying to bully them on behalf of the energy lobby.

Federal energy officials are opposing new rules by Montana to force companies that extract methane gas from underground coal beds to clean up the water pollution caused by drilling operations, even as state officials cite an unreleased 2003 federal report that says cleanup costs are relatively inexpensive.

The Denver office of the Environmental Protection Agency produced the report but never published it, saying it related to a proposed drilling application that was dropped.

A Montana consulting firm obtained a copy of the EPA report, however, and handed it over to Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D). Last month, Montana's Board of Environmental Review, citing the EPA paper and other economic studies, voted to force coalbed methane companies to leave the state's streams as clean as they were before drilling started, although the companies do not have to clean up existing pollution.

While the corporate conservative members of Congress from Wyoming are jumping on the bandwagon behind the Bush administration's move, noticeably absent from comment on the story was Montana's own conservative Senator, Conrad Burns, who faces a tough reelection campaign this year as a result of questions about his once close relationship with Jack Abramoff.

In 2004 Governor Schweitzer, then the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, rode to victory with support from within his own party but also from hunters and fishermen not traditionally aligned with the Democratic Party. As David Sirota explains in his extremely interesting Washington Monthly piece on the 2004 Montana gubernatorial race, Schweitzer was able to win over these outdoorsment, who bore similarities to conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt, by backing smart and fair regulations of the mining industry.

If the Bush administration continues with its attempt to encroach into Montana and block Schweitzer's plain sense regulations, will Burns step in and try to stop them? If not, does he risk ceding these conservationist voters to his eventual Democratic challenger, whether he be Jon Tester or John Morrison? The proof will be in the pudding, though I wouldn't put too much money on Burns just now.

Tags: Brian Schweitzer, Environment, George W. Bush, Montana, MT-Sen (all tags)

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