Montana Governor Changes Position on Cap-and-Trade

Published October 1, 2009

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), current chairman of both the Democratic Governors Association and the Western Governors Association, appears to be changing his tune on carbon dioxide restrictions and cap-and-trade schemes as public sentiment against the proposals mounts.

Despite a slight drop in global surface temperatures since the late 1990s, Schweitzer frequently has asserted anthropogenic global warming means trouble. In late 2007 he joined six other states and two (which has since become four) Canadian provinces in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), the primary goal of which is to form a joint carbon-reduction agreement.

WCI is striving to set up a system to cap carbon emissions in its member states and force industries to trade permits allowing them to emit greenhouse gases under limits set by government.

Newfound Skepticism

However, Schweitzer recently expressed a different view about cap-and-trade. In a July appearance on the HBO television series Real Time with Bill Maher, Schweitzer surprised the host by criticizing the cap-and-trade energy legislation moving through Congress.

The proposal “says to the biggest utilities in America, ‘We’re going to add a trillion dollars to your bottom line,'” Schweitzer explained. “‘We’re going to franchise you, and only you, to be the only producers of CO2.’ I think it’s the wrong approach.”

Schweitzer’s Real Time comments echoed views he expressed last December when he told the Great Falls Tribune, “I’m not a proponent of a carbon cap-and-trade system. I think that it tends to transfer a lot of wealth from consumers of electricity to utilities.”

Prior Advocacy

Prior to last November’s election, Schweitzer had shown great enthusiasm for cap-and-trade. He said in testimony before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in February 2007, “I’m just going to give you some suggestions. … Develop a cap-and-trade system. … We need a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide that is national.”

And shortly before joining WCI, in an article explaining many governors’ support for cap-and-trade legislation cosponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (D) and John Warner (R), Schweitzer told The New York Times, “Here’s a novel concept for Congress. Do something. Anything. Move.”

And soon after the November election last year, Schweitzer, as vice chairman, cosigned a letter to President Barack Obama on behalf of the Western Governors Association, using code words in support of cap-and-trade: “[We] propose a mandatory national system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that makes maximum use of market-based mechanisms.”

With cap-and-trade a signature issue for Democrats this year while the public increasingly tells pollsters manmade global warming is not a problem, the party’s leader among state governors seems to be taking notice.

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is director of Climate Strategies Watch and a special correspondent for The Heartland Institute.