Out of a possible score of 100, Burns rates a zero. “Conrad Burns’ record speaks for itself,” said Deb Callahan, president of the LCV. “Mr. Burns has accomplished nearly the impossible—he managed to ignore federal and environmental safety throughout his 12 year tenure in the Senate, voting against some of the most basic health and environmental legislation that crossed his path. He is not the voice of Montana’s people or its natural resources and magnificent landscape.”
Burns’ distinction has earned for his opponent, Democrat Brian Schweitzer, access to a portion of the $3 million pot that the LCV has earmarked to defeat what they refer to as the “dirty dozen,” the 12 most environmentally offensive senators and representatives in the country. Burns’ voting record won’t earn him points with any conservation groups, yet the race is close, it should be pointed out, with Schweitzer earning national attention and the regional senior vote for his stance on the high cost of prescription drugs. Most recent polls have the two within a few percentage points.
Burns has supported several attempts to weaken the Safe Drinking Water Act, and in his last term voted to eliminate national standards that keep 50 proven toxic and cancer-causing chemicals out of drinking water sources. Most recently, in 1999, Burns came under fire for sponsoring a bill that would limit the liability of W.R. Grace and Company, the corporation responsible for 192 asbestos poisoning and lung disease deaths in Libby. The backlash from that maneuver caused Burns to back down.
In an unrelated move, the Sierra Club has begun airing television ads that compare Burns’ environmental record with Schweitzer’s professed environmental platform. This will be coupled with a grassroots effort that includes distributing door-to-door chart comparisons of the senatorial candidates in the hope of raising voters’ awareness of environmental issues.
Mary Wiper, who has been directing the effort from the Sierra Club office in Billings, noted earlier this week that their effort is more of an educational one than a direct effort to defeat Burns. “I don’t think the debate can be summed up in a couple points in a poll,” commented Wiper. “We know things like air and water quality are important to Montanans. So we’re getting the voter’s guide out, and trying to let people know how Burns has voted and how Schweitzer would vote if elected. Some people are really surprised at Burns’ record.”