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.