Montana’s Mining Hypocrisy

By Beacon Staff

I live almost equally between the Flathead Valley of Montana and the East Kootenays of British Columbia, and have been involved in conservation efforts in the Kootenays for more than 30 years. Consequently, I was bitterly amused to read a recent letter to the Flathead Beacon’s editor carrying on about the potential impact coalbed methane extraction in British Columbia might have on Montana. I am not particularly in favor of either coalbed methane operations or additional mines in the South Country – if for no other reason than that they provide no real benefit to the local communities at this time.

However, recent letter writers and their fellow travelers need a reality check. Yet again this year, the Libby dam reservoir is going to be drawn down to the detriment of British Columbia’s wildlife and fisheries, habitat, upstream reservoirs and the lifestyle of residents of the East Kootenays. Sort of like what many Montanans are worried about happening in reverse, isn’t it? And what, precisely, have they done in advocacy to stop that from happening? Where are these letter writers and fellow travelers when Montana issues like the Kookanusa reservoir negatively impact British Columbia? Or does it only matter when Montana is at risk, and to hell with those people to the north?

Like it or not, Montana is going to have to go a long way before gaining any sympathy in British Columbia. U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., had a lot to do with the protectionist softwood lumber tariffs that punished thousands of Kootenay residents who worked in the forest industry and put many on the unemployment rolls. If there was any sympathy from Montana residents over the results of Baucus’s efforts, it surely wasn’t heard by Kootenay residents. Of course, Baucus was equally effective in keeping the border closed to British Columbia beef for quite a long time, legislation that affected a lot of local ranchers in the Kootenays. And again, if there was any sympathy from Montana residents over the damage this did to East Kootenay livelihoods, somehow it was missed.

In fact, we even have Senator Baucus making a visit to the East Kootenays to lecture us on the evils of the possible Cline coal mine – while Montana is building how many new coal fired power plants? How hypocritical can you get, folks? Add to the list the assorted Montana politicians who advocate for British Columbia making the South Country part of Waterton National Park – something the majority of East Kootenay residents absolutely do not want.

Montanans concerned about the Cline mine and coalbed methane operations in the South Country can breathe a sigh of relief – there’s no real support from East Kootenay residents at this time, and the South Country is a major recreation area locally. However, it is only a matter of time before they come up again. If Montana residents expect any empathy for the possible effects on the other side of the border, now would be a good time to start demonstrating concern for the effects in British Columbia by what is done on the Montana side of the border, and by Montana politicians. As it stands right now, many British Columbia residents would vote in favor of both the Cline Mine and coalbed methane extraction purely as a response to the grief Montana politicians and Kookanusa reservoir draw downs have brought them.
Your move. Can you spare a little concern from the North Fork for the impact on B.C. rivers from Montana decisions and actions?

Rick Lowe lives part time in Whitefish and part time in Cranbrook, British Columbia.

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