As Colstrip's representative in the Montana House, Duane Ankney no doubt believes that he must do all he can to further the mining and burning of coal, and so he argues in a recent letter in the Independent against the elimination of tax subsidies for the fossil fuel industry in Sen. Max Baucus' proposed reforms of our nation's tax laws (see "Letters," Jan. 23). If Baucus were to do as Ankney desired, he would abandon his responsibility to lead, by failing to address what informed people believe is the largest problem facing our country and world.
Incredibly, Ankney even claims in his guest editorial that there are currently no tax subsidies given specifically to the fossil fuel industry! The respected and conservative Brookings Institution carefully documents the specific tax subsidies written into the current tax code for the fossil fuel industry and concludes that "the U.S. government effectively transfers by way of tax expenditures more than $4 billion annually from taxpayers to fossil fuel producers."
I am really sorry that some good-paying jobs and state tax revenue will be lost as we transition from burning fossil fuels to getting our power primarily from nonpolluting renewable sources. I used to make twice what I do now when I was a radio officer on merchant ships. That job vanished as satellite communications made the mandated Morse-code safety system obsolete. Similarly, the smart and good people of Colstrip will survive and adapt to flourish in other endeavors, as I had to do. And if Montana fully exploited its wind resources, we would raise more tax revenue from wind power than we ever could from coal.
The weather extremes we've seen in the last decade—the beetle-kill decimation of our pine forests, the storms of unprecedented magnitude on the Gulf and East coasts—are the gentle, opening prelude to the devastation that is coming soon if the leaders of industry and government don't focus all of their energies on reducing fossil fuel combustion and maximizing both energy efficiency and nonpolluting renewable energy development. Seven billion people relying primarily on fossil fuels have caused the dramatic changes that are occurring in the Earth's climate due to the loading of the atmosphere with concentrations of greenhouse gases that are higher than they've been in many thousands of years. If Baucus does not eliminate tax subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and if he does not create strong tax incentives for the most robust development possible of nonpolluting renewable energy sources, then he will be abandoning his leadership responsibility, and our children and their children will blame him for not acting to stop the devastation of their world, even though science and early catastrophes were clearly portending what needed to be done.
I used to swear by the name of Charlie B's. It was a holy place of sorts, a Mecca of good times and stiff pours, boasting a clientele of true grit and worth. In my mind, it had secured its place in the Pantheon of American Dive Bars.
Sadly, it seems those days are over.
Nowadays when I stumble into Charlie's, my ear drums are bombarded with obnoxious dance club music, a symphony of bump and grind, the noise of the mindless mob. This sordid atmosphere is ill-fitting for a bar of such renown.
It's interesting that Charlie's books bands such as Cash For Junkers and Lil' Smokies—bands that play string-driven American roots music—for their live music nights. Judging by the music the bartenders play on a typical Friday or Saturday night, it seems likely that live music nights will soon feature hipster DJs, fog machines, seizure-inducing strobe lights and barrels of ecstasy.
Charlie's does not need to become the next Am Vets. If its young bartenders feel compelled to assault its bar patrons with their plebeian musical tastes, perhaps they would be better off pouring drinks at Feruqi's or Bodega's.
It's a grievous insult to those with their black and white portraits lining the walls of Charlie's to have their likenesses associated with this cheap, auto-tuned, synthetic musical garbage. I probably speak for the majority of these people when I say it's high time this auditory trash is thrown out the back door and into the alley where it belongs.
Merle Haggard asks if the good times are really over for good. Are they, Charlie?
The first time I saw the word “watermelon” used satirically was in a National Review article about a year ago (see “War on watermelons,” Jan. 2). It was used then as a rejoinder to the liberal use of the terms “Uncle Tom,” “Uncle Tomahawk,” “coconut” and “banana” to describe and disparage, respectively, blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans who display a conservative point of view. (Coconuts are brown on the outside, white on the inside, bananas are yellow …) The “watermelon” reference to describe liberal environmentalists who are “green on the outside, red on the inside” seemed a logical, classy and clever retort to the undeniably racist and hurtful terms used earlier in the National Review article, considering it is inspired by ideology rather than skin color.
I thought this would be of interest to Independent readers.
Sen. Max Baucus has one major piece of unfinished business he’s scrambling to complete before he officially leaves office. Last year, he took on the mammoth task of completely overhauling our nation’s tax structure—an undertaking that is sorely needed to help our economy and create jobs. Moreover, comprehensive tax reform is the senator’s last best chance to repair his legacy after being sullied by his role in crafting Obamacare.
Unfortunately, it’s looking like Baucus’s tax legislation might turn out to be another poor mark on his report card and further degrade his popularity.
A faction of Congressional Democrats is pushing major tax changes aimed squarely at damaging our energy industry. That would have an immediate, negative impact in Montana where our job growth has been dependent, in large part, on the booming oil and gas development in Eastern Montana.
But eliminating energy jobs is exactly what environmental groups like the Sierra Club would love to see result from changes to tax policy.
We often hear rhetoric about “subsidies” received by traditional fossil fuel companies. Those claims are blatant mistruths. To be perfectly clear, there are no government subsidies for oil and gas producers. Certainly nothing like the government payouts received by companies involved in generating solar or wind power.
When D.C. politicians talk about eliminating “subsidies” for oil and gas companies, what they’re really talking about are the type of basic tax deductions that firms in every industry receive to account for the cost of doing business. The truth is, they’re proposing to single out petroleum producers including those in Montana, by eliminating standard tax practices almost all other manufacturers receives. If that happens, American energy producers will be less competitive and have fewer resources to create new jobs.
It would also drive up the cost of energy at all levels. That’s bad for consumers, who will face higher prices for gasoline, electricity and home heating, to name just a few items. It’s also bad for energy-intensive industries, like agriculture and manufacturing.
But, again, higher prices for energy is exactly what some environmental groups would love to see. They’d rather Americans pay artificially higher prices in order to make the heavily subsidized alternative energy sources marginally more competitive.
The anti-worker, anti-consumer agenda of the environmentalist movement has no place in our tax code. It would distort our economy, inflate prices and ultimately cost us thousands of jobs. But these types of policies are receiving actual credence by some members of Congress, and these policies have worked their way into the legislation discussion drafts being circulated by Baucus and his staff.
There is no doubt that tax policies singling out the energy industry would have a disproportionate impact on Montana where energy is such a large part of our export economy. Hamstringing industry is certainly is not the legacy that most of us are hoping Baucus will leave our state.
But Baucus still has time to set things right by showing leadership among his Democratic caucus in the Senate. He needs to establish fairness and equity as key tenants of tax reform. He needs to emphasize that tax reform absolutely should not result in some industries gaining at the expense of others as a result of inequitable policies.
At the very least, the tone Baucus sets now will be valuable guidance for whoever succeeds him in office. Because energy is such an important area of Montana’s economy, our state’s Congressional representatives will be in a pivotal role to shape energy tax policy as part of the reform package.
It’s unfortunate that Baucus has to leave office before he is able to see his final, major policy objective completed. But he still has ample time to have a significant influence on the outcome for tax reform. The senator should make sure Montana’s priorities are protected by supporting fair tax policies across the board and not harming one of our most valuable industries.
State Rep. Duane Ankney
It’s very gratifying to have the “High Court” rule in favor of the vast majority of the Montana public after fully evaluating the very complicated issues dealing with the historic use of prescriptive roads and bridges, which have been used for decades.
It is really disheartening for longtime residents to see Montana changed into a playground for the very rich. The large tracks of Montana that the wealthier are buying contain segments of public land, which have some of our best hunting and fishing resources, and the public isn’t welcome.
There will be continued attacks on our cherished Stream Access Law by these selfish property owners because they want everything for themselves. The only consolation that Montana residents have is that these greedy individuals will not be able to purchase a place in “The Here After,” nor will they be able to bribe the devil from their fire-proof money belts. Montana has the most bullet-proof stream access law in the nation.
Montana Coalition for Stream Access
On Dec. 9, the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation canceled a scheduled public comment hearing on Energy Corporations of America’s oil well planned along the Beartooth Front. Because of their decision, affected landowners and concerned Montanans had no opportunity to officially voice their concerns about its development.
The BOGC’s repression of citizens’ voices indicates that the loyalty of the Board may lie with the industry. Given the BOGC’s membership is comprised of three representatives of the oil and gas industry, one landowner with mineral rights, one landowner without mineral rights, one from the public and one attorney, it’s clear the industry holds a majority over any other group impacted by oil and gas development.
Because of the oil and gas industries’ overwhelming representation on the BOGC, it’s not surprising they acquiesced to ECA’s last-minute demand to deny Northern Plains Resource Council and Carbon County Resource Council comments because, although ECA and the BOGC had timely received the complete file, a certificate of delivery had been not included. When this was brought to the councils’ attention, and the valid certificate being promptly provided, it’s also not surprising that the board refused to accept it and allow the public comment hearing to proceed.
Apparently, the board is against hearing Montanans’ concerns and in favor of ECA’s chief executive officer’s publicly stated goal that he “would love to bring something like the Bakken … to the area in the Big Horns and other areas in Montana.”
In the midst of partisan vitriol in today’s politics, one Montana legislator stands out from the rest. Forbes listed Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, as one of its “30 Under 30.” The 32 of us who have signed this letter are also all under the age of 30, and come from all corners of Montana. We want to congratulate Rep. Zolnikov, and thank him for his work to protect our privacy rights.
Zolnikov, 26, achieved the Forbes honor by pioneering legislation last session to protect our civil liberties. He argued that government officials should have to obtain warrants to conduct searches of cellphone data even before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on massive, unconstitutional (according to two federal judges) NSA surveillance. Once the Snowden scandal broke, Zolnikov’s work received international praise. He has become a voice of a new generation of public officials who are committed to protecting our freedoms in the digital age.
As a young legislator, Zolnikov made Montana an example for the rest of the nation, and even other countries, to follow. Laws similar to his requiring government to obtain warrants before accessing cellphone location data have now passed in numerous other states, and more privacy protections are on the way.
The current heated debate over digital privacy has broken down party lines and unified many in our generation. We are the ones who will live through a new age of groundbreaking technology and innovation. While these technologies provide exciting new opportunities, they can also create new threats to privacy and freedom if left unchecked.
Daniel Zolnikov is on the cutting edge of securing smart policies that will protect our rights for generations to come. We look forward to seeing more great work from him in the future, and again offer our gratitude and congratulations.
Candidate for SD 49
as well as 29 others
I would like to thank Congressman Steve Daines for his work on HR 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, which passed the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support. The Boone and Crockett Club, along with many hunting organizations, have strongly supported this legislation. Why? Because millions of acres of our national forests are overcrowded, dying from insect infestation and susceptible to uncharacteristically large, hot wildfires. If you hunt and you care about improving the health of our national forests, as the club does, then you realize that we need real changes to help the Forest Service get back in the woods performing active management. Study after study has shown that improvements to forest health, including the resilience of fire prone forests, can be restored through active management.
As Congressman Daines and the bipartisan members of the House pointed out when they passed HR 1526, we need aggressive forest management to improve game populations and enhance game habitat. The club will continue to fight for access to public land to hunt and shoot, and to enhance the habitat that supports important game populations like elk and deer. HR 1526 will improve the quality of habitat for all wildlife species while also creating healthy timber based jobs in rural communities in Montana and across the country.
William A. Demmer
Boone and Crockett Club
The Mule Deer Foundation Chapters of Montana would like to end 2013 with a big "thank you" to our sponsors, banquet attendees, members and our partner agencies and organizations that care for our public lands and wildlife. Celebrating our 25th year in 2013, MDF chapters in Montana had a record-breaking year in fund raising. With 12 chapters in Montana this year, MDF chapters were able to donate funds to the following projects in Montana:
Big Hole Watershed Project, White Pine Ridge noxious weeds project, Mount Haggin Bitterbrush project, Upper Big Hole Restoration, Madison County Weed Project, Madison Aspen Project, Tongue River Ranch Riparian Fencing project, Lazy J Ranch Easement, Poacher Cam (Region 3), Robotic Mule Deer Decoy (Region 3 & 5), 4H Shooting Program, and $22,000 to other Montana youth shooting programs.
The Mule Deer Foundation is a nonprofit wildlife habitat conservation organization dedicated to ensuring the future of mule deer, blacktail deer and their habitats. With 44,000 members and more than 140 chapters nationwide, MDF has raised funds for management-related research, habitat acquisitions, conservation easements and habitat improvement projects, and introduced our youth to the outdoors and shooting sports since its inception in 1988.
The Mule Deer Foundation Chapters of Montana look forward to 2014 and riding on the momentum we generated in 2013. We are planning to work with Montana Fish & Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service to add access easements to our funding goals in 2014. Again, none of this would be possible without the support of concerned hunters and outdoors enthusiasts.
Mule Deer Foundation
Earlier this past year, Rep. Steve Daines earned nods from the conservation community for his introduction of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act, legislation that completes a transboundary agreement with Canada to protect the North Fork drainage from potentially harmful resource extraction. Despite Denny Rehberg's equivocation on the matter, protecting the North Fork, the western boundary of Glacier National Park and one of the least trammeled river drainages in Montana, isn't exactly a bold, unprecedented move. Canada passed analogous protections a while back, and even the energy and mining companies holding leases have offered to release those claims in the name of the public good. Purportedly, it's the bipartisan cooperation that appeals to Daines with regard to the North Fork (his words), which makes his reluctance to support the two other made-in-Montana public land management bills before Congress seem a bit regressive. Most remarkably, during a congressional session singularly characterized by brinkmanship both Jon Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act and Max Baucus' Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act enjoy substantial bipartisan supportthe Heritage Act unanimously soas they both have moved out of Senate committee.
Rather, Daines has decided to co-sponsor a bill introduced by Rep. Don Hastings from Oregon, legislation that advocates forest clearcuts and other antiquated notions of forest management, and as a result has virtually no chance of moving beyond the House. This isn't news to Daines, who is thus willing to back a bill doomed to failure for the sake of scoring cheap political points instead of working constructively with his democratic counterparts in the Montana congressional delegation to seek a way forward for all Montanans.
Daines will rightfully receive my adulation when he actually demonstrates some level of leadership with respect to these pieces of legislation and conservation more broadly, rather than rehashing the same failed strategies of his unemployed predecessor.