While the Democrats running in the primary for Montana’s western U.S. House seat all agree it’s critical to address a warming world that’s changing the climate in ways that affect the state’s leading industries, the three have different approaches for how to tackle the problem.
Cora Neumann, Bozeman’s nonprofit executive, is in the race. Monica Tranel, Missoula’s lawyer with experience in energy and natural resource sectors, is in the race. Tom Winter, a Missoula ex-state lawmaker, works to increase broadband access.
Scientists warn that climate change is causing a host of problems, including ecological and human health. The Montana Climate Assessment notes that Montana’s rate of warming since 1895 has been greater than that of the U.S. overall, with future models predicting more days annually of extreme heat with daily minimum and maximum temperatures increasing. Trends indicate an increase in wildfire danger days, less snow cover days and an increase in climate-driven extreme weather.
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Asked what would be the first things she’d to do start to working on climate change, Tranel said in a Missoula forum that she would try to end fossil fuel subsidies, demand full payment of federal leases, modernize the electric grid and deploy electric-vehicle charging stations across Montana and the country.
Tranel stated, “Those are low-hanging fruits things that we can now do.”
Tranel stated that the building industry is another place to look. He said that getting the industry to agree to a zero-carbon emission goal would be a huge opportunity for the state to address the shortage of affordable housing.
Tranel also said Montana’s winter-peaking wind and hydro generation, especially in the district, not only should be an opportunity to tap renewable resources but also to boost the state’s economy.
She stated, “In both the electrical generation and transmission space, this Montana can and should lead on.”
Tranel cited her experiences as a lawyer, who brought cases against NorthWestern Energy in the state and helped ag producers install wind turbines, as evidence that she has an understanding of how to communicate climate issues with people.
Tranel said dealing with climate change means treating it as a “solvable” problem that needs to be demystified.
“If we talk about climate change and the Arctic melting, and that just goes to be ‘What can you do?’ But if you talk about it like ‘We know how to reduce carbon emissions, we know how to do that.’ That’s a math problem. It’s an engineering problem. It’s a transmission question,” she said.
Tranel said she’s met people in towns like Broadview who illustrate an example of supporting things like a single wind turbine on their ranch for the revenue but watch Fox News every night. What she’s experienced, she said, is that people care more about energy being reliable and affordable than where it comes from.
“I don’t know that people are really defending fossil fuels except for the people who have a financial interest in doing that,” Tranel said. “It’s really more about we want to know that it’s going to work and we want it to be cheap. And our renewable resources do that.”
Neumann told the crowd at the Missoula forum that “climate change is here. It’s no longer existential.”
“I have teenagers and they are facing a future that they’re truly afraid of what is to come. Many young people I know, including my kids, aren’t sure if they want children due to climate change. It’s heartbreaking. … We have to think about the planet that we’re passing on to our children,” Neumann said.
Two of the state’s largest industries — outdoor recreation and agriculture — have both already been hit dramatically by drought and climate change, Neumann said.
“No. 1, protecting public lands, they are the washing machine of our air and water,” Neumann said of her top priority to address climate change.
She also called on universities to continue research in the state to study soil health, regenerative agricultural, resilient crops, and livestock welfare.
“Our farmers and ranchers are some of our best partners on addressing climate change and how we move forward as a state, including on food security,” Neumann said.
Her third proposal focuses primarily on renewable energy.
“We have a proud history of … being an energy leader in this country. And so making sure that investments at the federal level are directed to and incentivizing investments in water, hydro, solar, and making sure that those jobs and the growth in that in that industry here in Montana also supports good paying jobs for Montanans and for unions,” Neumann said.
Neumann stated that it was important for Montana to be represented at the table when discussing increasing domestic energy production and food security.
“We can bring that unique perspective to Washington,” Neumann said. “We also understand and have been a leader in domestic energy production, and we’re going through an energy crisis right now. Who better to be a leading voice in Washington on energy than Montana?”
Winter began by acknowledging that the International Conference on Climate Change recently stated that the planet has approximately three years to stop burning carbon and avoid catastrophic changes.
“We will not meet that target,” Winter said. “I am one of the people who is hesitant to have a family because of what we face and because of 40 years of inaction on the part of our federal government. We need actual action immediately.”
Winter supports President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation and its proposed $555 million to address climate change. Winter said the plan could bring high-voltage transmission lines from places “where the wind blows continuously like Montana to the wealthier cities of the coast.”
He compared the chance to a better thing to things like the mining that made towns like Butte rich, but left the environment devastated.
“I view this as a resource-extraction model that we can resuscitate and not harm our state. Butte made itself one of the richest towns between Minneapolis and Seattle based on pulling copper out of the ground to fund the war effort,” Winter said. “It completely destroyed the environment.”
But harnessing “our almost constantly blowing wind” just outside the district on the Rocky Mountain Front would give Montana the opportunity to “exploit our resources in a way that does not harm our environment,” Winter said.
“It enriches our communities, and also contributes to the national security of our country. I would say that the blowing winds specifically in Great Falls that drives all my friends crazy over there is one of the great economic facts for Montana’s future,” Winter said.
Winter stated that his goal to have a future without oil was not a crazy idea. This was the same proposal that was made by the president and which was defeated narrowly in the U.S. Senate.
Winter stated that his campaign was an example taking a stand against climate change, as it rejects any money associated to fossil fuels.
“We are on board for the Green New Deal and climate justice, and we have to ensure that we run campaigns that show that we are anti oil and gas industry from Day 1,” Winter said.
— Montana State News Bureau Deputy Tom Kuglin contributed to this story.
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