HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Tuesday that banning the contested oil company megaload shipments from state highways could hurt efforts to attract businesses to the state.
Schweitzer made the comments in a meeting Tuesday with the head of the state trucking association.
Exxon Mobil is seeking permits to haul more than 200 loads of equipment from Lewiston, Idaho through northwestern Montana to an oil-sands project in Alberta, Canada. The plan is currently mired down in a permitting process in Idaho.
Opponents argue the huge loads, which will travel at very slow speeds, present a threat to tourism, public safety and convenience and could harm the pristine rivers along the proposed route.
Schweitzer said Montana can consider finalizing its permits once the company has permission to reach the state borders.
But the governor said he can’t envision the Department of transportation rejecting the permits just because some don’t like the idea of helping expand oil production in Canada. Doing so would be arbitrary, unfair and send a wrong signal to other businesses.
The governor said he also supports the expansion of the oil-sands in Canada because it is far better than getting oil from the Middle East.
Schweitzer said his office is trying to recruit a company expansion that builds large industrial equipment to Billings. Berry Y & V Industrial Contracting too would need to ship oversize loads on state highways.
“I will do nothing that jeopardizes that opportunity,” Schweitzer told Spook Stang, a former legislator who heads the Motor Carriers of Montana.
Schweitzer said he thinks the permitting process under the Montana Environmental Policy Act will do an adequate job of ensuring the loads are handled in a way that prevents any harm and forces the company to pay for any damage to bridges or other structures if it does occur.
The governor said he doesn’t think the proposed oil equipment megaloads pose a threat to area rivers as some suggest. He said trucks carry toxic materials such as farm chemicals on Montana roads every day, while the oil field equipment is largely inert.
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