Thoughts on the PNWER Summit

Summit agenda was jampacked with hot relevant topics

By Mike Cuffe

David L. Cohen, U.S. ambassador to Canada, expressed optimism for Columbia River Treaty (CRT) negotiations at the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) Summit held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, last month. PNWER is an organization of legislators from 10 northwest states, provinces and territories.  

Cohen said that U.S. Department of State officials have been working hard on technical issues in the background, and he expects positive progress to surface soon. 

Few details were offered as he sat beside Canada’s Ambassador Kirsten Hillman. With Scotty Greenwood moderating, they discussed issues ranging from COVID-19 to worker shortages and supply chain disruptions. Greenwood is executive director of the Canadian American Business Council and a former U.S. diplomat. Montana legislators have requested removal of CRT Article 13 and compensation for loss of taxes and economic base. 

Although Ambassador Cohen made no promises, he later told me he is aware of Montana’s concerns about CRT Article 13, which grants Canada the right to divert 26 percent of the average annual Kootenai River flow into the Columbia River at Canal Flats, British Columbia, 100 miles north of the border. The Kootenai eventually joins the Columbia at Castlegar, British Columbia. Libby Dam was created under CRT Article 12. CRT was ratified in 1964, and water management by Canada changes drastically in 2024, unless a “modernization” is negotiated. In 2013, the two nations agreed to consider modernization of flood control through water release management, redistribution of benefits, and impacts on aquatic life.

The Summit agenda was jampacked with hot relevant topics and experts with 550 legislators, business leaders and policy experts attending in person. My part included presentations on forest management and production and aquatic invasive species.

Other Montanans presenting in person included NorthWest Energy CEO Bob Rowe, Department of Agriculture Chief Attorney Cort Jensen, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park’s Liz Lodman representing the Montana Invasive Species Council. 

Several others took part online from July 22-27. Cross-border travel and trade were part of most panel discussions, including COVID-19 vaccination requirements for entry to Canada. 

Alberta MLA Richard Gotfried passed the PNWER president’s gavel to Idaho Senate Leader Chuck Winder, with the 2023 Summit planned for Boise. My term on the PNWER executive board began at Big Sky in 2015, with election as vice president. I served two years as president and one as immediate past president, and Montana hosted the Summit again in 2021. 

Sen. Mike Cuffe

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