Campaign Watch: House Candidates Explain Energy Plans

Zinke laid out an energy plan that emphasizes coal, oil and natural gas

By Dillon Tabish

HELENA — While U.S. Sen. John Walsh visited with local newspapers in an attempt to move past the plagiarism scandal that broke last week, candidates for Montana’s lone U.S. House seat laid out their ideas on energy and agriculture policy. Here is a look at the week’s most interesting and important developments in Montana’s election campaigns.


Sen. John Walsh, who is trying to keep the seat he was appointed to in February, talked with The Billings Gazette and The Montana Standard this week about allegations that he used others’ work without attribution in a 2007 research paper to earn a master’s degree from the U.S. Army War College. Walsh said he hopes voters will consider his entire career when choosing between him and his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, in November.

“I’m very hopeful that Montanans will look at my overall career and not just this one serious blemish,” he told the Gazette.

The Department of Defense said this week it will review the findings of the plagiarism investigation that will conducted by the U.S. Army War College. The school’s investigation begins Aug. 15, and a college official said he didn’t think it would take long.


Republican U.S. House candidate Ryan Zinke laid out an energy plan that emphasizes coal, oil and natural gas and opposes tax breaks that would subsidize the wind industry. He said government regulations are holding back companies seeking to extract fossil fuels. Zinke wants to streamline mining approvals and block the Obama administration’s plan to reduce greenhouse gases from coal power plants. Zinke also wants to export more Montana coal and natural gas.

“With fracking, with coal, with the technologies available, we have that opportunity as a country to be energy independent,” Zinke said. “We have to take it.”

Democratic candidate John Lewis presented an energy plan in June that emphasizes renewable energy development and includes tax credits for coal mining on Indian lands. Lewis said Zinke’s plan ignores Montana’s promising wind power industry and other renewables like solar power.

“Let’s invest in jobs and think about the long-term future, rather than draw a line in the sand and focusing just on our extractive industries,” he said.


Lewis pushed a plan he says would help sustain the state’s agriculture industry. His proposal calls for increased funding for loan programs for beginning farmers and ranchers and greater investments in agriculture research and development. Lewis also says he will push the Obama administration to keep open local offices of the Farm Service Agency that are threatened with closure. And he wants Congress to address delays in agriculture shipments by rail through a pending transportation bill.

“It’s about supporting a huge component of our economy — one in five jobs in Montana,” Lewis said. “We can all agree: Let’s invest in these things. We’re not trying to prop up anyone. The industry is there. It’s already strong.”

Although Zinke didn’t respond to the issue, his spokeswoman, Shelby DeMars, said Lewis’ support from environmental groups puts him on the side of rising fuel costs, increased government regulation and restrictions on the use of public lands.


Federal Election Commission filings show that Zinke’s campaign and the political action committee he founded have six vendors in common, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported this week. Federal law bars coordination between candidates and PACs, but DeMars said there is no coordination between the campaign and the Special Operations For America PAC.

The PAC has spent $175,000 in support of Zinke’s bid for Congress since he stepped down as chairman of the group last year. Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center, which previously filed a complaint alleging coordination between Zinke and Special Operations For America, said the use of the same companies doesn’t amount to wrongdoing.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.