The annual Montana State University-Billings political poll reports the Montana public continues to favor energy development, with pluralities of Montanans believing there is too little oil and coal development—40 percent and 41 percent, respectively—in the state.
Factoring in those happy with the current amount of development, public support for oil and coal production totaled 67 percent and 76 percent, respectively.
Only 10 percent said there is too much oil development occurring, and just 9 percent said there is too much coal development occurring, affirming Montanans see the potential for job creation and economic growth in the energy sector.
“Most importantly, the energy sector provides thousands of Montana jobs, and good, high-wage jobs at that,” said Chuck Denowh of Count on Coal Montana in an email to Media Trackers Montana. “There is no other economic opportunity that comes close to matching the potential for job growth and economic prosperity than the opportunity we have to generate more energy from Montana resources.”
Bipartisan Montana Support
The Keystone XL Pipeline, which will carry oil from the Alberta oil sands and the Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota to Gulf Coast refineries, is so popular in Montana almost no high-profile politicians oppose it. Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus, both Democrats, all support the pipeline.
Tester, who is also a farmer from Big Sandy, ran an ad during his 2012 campaign in which he bragged, “I voted to build the Keystone Pipeline.”
Media Twist the Truth
Despite Montanans’ overwhelming support for energy production, the Qatar-based news organization Al-Jazeera, which recently purchased Al Gore’s Current TV and pledged to continue Gore’s support of environmental activist causes, painted Montanans as uniting against energy infrastructure projects in a December article published shortly after the MSU-Billings poll.
The Al Jazeera article covered attempts by a small number of liberal political groups, environmental activists, and local property owners to stop three particular energy development projects.
“Three proposed projects—the Keystone XL pipeline, a new coal railroad and a trucking route for mining equipment the size of apartment buildings—have triggered protests in different regions of the state, and not just from people who dislike fossil fuels,” claimed Al-Jazeera.
“Ranchers, Native Americans, farmers and environmentalists say they don’t want the industrialization of the land that comes with moving the fuels and with the equipment needed for their extraction,” the story continued.
But although some political groups and environmental activists certainly oppose the projects, the MSU-Billings poll shows an overwhelming majority of the public—ignored in the Al Jazeera article—support energy production.
Indian Tribe’s Views Distorted
The Al-Jazeera article quoted Bill Whitehead, a Fort Peck tribal elder and reservation water commissioner who opposes the pipeline, as an example of Native American opposition to the pipeline and energy development projects. However, the story made no mention of Fort Peck Tribal Councilman Stoney Anketell’s comments harshly criticizing the federal government for policies and regulations that delay oil and gas projects on tribal lands.
“I testified to the shortcomings of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC in February of 2012, and I haven’t seen any improvement yet,” Anketell said at a July 2013 listening session with U.S. Sen. Tester. “And we need to because it takes too long to get leases approved, to get lease assignments approved, to get rights of way approved.”
Al-Jazeera also heavily covered opposition by Northern Cheyenne tribal members to the Tongue River Railroad—a project that would connect the proposed Otter Creek Coal Mine to BNSF Railway’s Southern Montana mainline—and the Otter Creek Coal Development itself near Ashland. A tribe member was quoted worrying about ancient hunting grounds and the effect on water quality.
However, just to the west of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation is the Crow Reservation, whose tribal chairman Darrin Old Coyote is fighting hard to mine more of the tribe’s billions of tons in coal reserves.
Tribes See Economic Opportunity
As energy development expands across the Western United States, development on tribal lands is increasingly seen as a potential moneymaker for the tribes, with the potential to greatly boost depressed reservation economies.
An October article in the Washington, DC magazine The Hill detailed how Montana’s Republican U.S. congressman and current U.S. Senate candidate Steve Daines are using energy issues as a platform to reach out to voters within Indian Country who typically vote heavily Democratic.
“It’s very welcoming and very refreshing to have a friend in DC knowing your interest as a tribe and nation, your concerns and issues are being addressed and prioritized,” said Old Coyote of Daines, according to The Hill.
According to an October article in the Wall Street Journal, “Indian reservations contain almost 30% of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, as well as significant deposits of oil, natural gas and uranium. The Council of Energy Resource Tribes, a tribal energy consortium, estimates the value of these resources at nearly $1.5 trillion. Yet these energy resources on Indian lands remain largely untapped, helping to lock Native Americans in a poverty trap. Indian incomes are about a third of those for all U.S. citizens, and unemployment rates are four times the national average.”
Ron Cartlett ([email protected]) writes for Media Trackers Montana. An earlier version of this article appeared at MediaTrackers.org and is published with permission.
“The MSU-Billings Poll,” October 2013, http://www.ktvq.com/files/MSUBpoll.pdf
“Montana: Big Sky country at an environmental crossroads,” Al Jazeera, December 2, 2013, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/2/big-sky-country-atanenvironmentalcrossroads.html