Montana, like nearly every other state in the union, has been through its share of rough economic times in recent years. But Montanans aren't easy to discourage. We have a tradition of pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps when times get tough; we're optimistic about our economic future and, for the most part, we welcome new business in our state.
Unfortunately, outsiders seem not to share our pro-business viewpoints. Recently, external influences are making their presence felt in our state, and are threatening to push needed revenue and investment out of our region. Opposed to commercial, oversized use of our local highways, global environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have descended upon Montana and Idaho to attempt to halt permitting for the trucking of oversized loads related to energy development—a project that would bring significant tax revenue and economic stimulus to our region.
Montana is heavily vested in agriculture, timber, mining, wind energy and other activities that necessitate the wide loads we so often see on our highways. Many industries require the shipping of large cargoes, and would be required to halt operations or seriously hinder them if they were not allowed to ship.
Despite the regularity of this activity, the proposed loads that may cross our state to reach the oil sands have agreed to take the precaution of traveling at night during low traffic hours, and will pay for police escorts to ensure safety and proper traffic movements.
Because Montana's staple industries rely so heavily on shipping heavy loads, the fuss generated by outsiders over specific loads traveling through our state will threaten much more than that project. If those outside groups can stop these shipments, they will set a precedent that can be used to stop oversized loads for other industries.
What's more, the oversized shipping Kearl project brings an incredible amount of investment for our state, including infrastructure upgrades and road improvements at no cost to taxpayers. Additionally, they will bring new economic activity to the region by hiring construction workers, and providing a boost to local establishments along the route such as restaurants, hotels and community stores. In fact, it's estimated that the project will produce a total of $80 million additional economic activity to the region.
The Montana Department of Transportation must address permitting of wide loads and heavy shipments in an apolitical manner, and must not allow outsiders to politicize this relatively simple process. If a negative precedent is set, any number of industries opposed by outside activists would be threatened. Those who don't agree with the timber, coal or agricultural industries operating in our state could hinder the shipping of goods on our public roads.
Montanans must make their voice heard on this issue, because right now it is being drowned out. In fact, during the open comment period offered on this issue, 97 percent of the comments received in opposition were generated by the NRDC, reportedly as part of a nationwide campaign. We cannot allow our state citizens and economy to be the collateral damage in this battle over the future of America's energy industry.
Our economy is headed in the right direction, and if we have our way it will continue on this positive course. If Montanans aren't heard, and oversized shipping permits become a political minefield that must be navigated by industries throughout the state's economy, though, we're in for trouble.
We must do our part to keep Montana the nation's Last Best Place, and keep our economy's future in our own capable hands.
Barry "Spook" Stang
Executive Vice President
Motor Carriers of Montana