Congressman Denny Rehberg has it wrong when it comes to Montana jobs. As a former employee and chemical engineer at Smurfit-Stone’s Frenchtown mill, I’m here to tell you that Rehberg cost me my job—and Sen. Jon Tester is the one who fought to save it.
Smurfit-Stone announced in December 2009 that it would close its Frenchtown mill and lay off all of the plant’s 417 employees. It was a hard day for everyone in the timber community. For more than 50 years, our mill turned out high-quality paper products and helped put food on kitchen tables across western Montana. An estimated 1,300 loggers, truckers, mill workers and others across the region saw their livelihoods threatened.
But this did not come as a surprise. Mill owners across the state knew that the timber industry needed help with wood supply issues well before Smurfit-Stone closed its doors. And that’s where Montana’s elected officials came in—or in the case of Rehberg, checked out.
Smurfit-Stone claimed it was shutting down the mill in part because of declining wood supply. That’s because for too many years folks fought over how to manage Montana’s public forests and nothing got done, limiting lands available for logging.
That’s why a few years ago, Smurfit-Stone and four other mills sat down with conservationists and motorized users to hammer out a solution that would properly manage our forests, while allowing mills like Smurfit-Stone to get the wood supply they needed.
The result was Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Tester brought everyone to the table to work out a deal where everyone gave a little, but in the end got a lot.
But Tester wasn’t the first or the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation that the group approached. Even though Rehberg was publicly calling for more collaboration on the issue, when the coalition asked him to support and carry the bill, he said no.
In fact, he soon opposed the bill, preferring to let the mills and the timber industry struggle. Instead, Rehberg chose to side with those who want to continue arguing over management of Montana’s public lands, all the while accomplishing nothing.
Tester’s bill quickly gained support from folks on both sides of the political aisle. Former Gov. Marc Racicot—who Rehberg worked under—backed the bill and said Congress should pass it without delay.
That was back in 2009. But apparently, it wasn’t enough for Rehberg, who continued to fight Tester’s bill. To this day, he is still making false claims about the bill, and he even put politics first to stop it from becoming law last year. Again, because of Rehberg’s resistance nothing was accomplished.
Smurfit-Stone announced it would close the mill the same week that Tester held his first Senate hearing on the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, but even that wasn’t enough of a wake-up call for Rehberg.
I was there in Seeley Lake when Tester introduced the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act to the town and mill workers in Seeley Lake. It is good to see that he is still fighting for those jobs. His bill, which will breathe life back into our timber industry, will be taken up after the election.
It’s not too late to save western Montana’s timber industry and the jobs it supports. If you care about the future of western Montana, I urge you to support Tester and send Rehberg—and his false claims about Tester’s record—packing.