JASON SMALL, PRESIDENT of Local 11 (East Helena, Mont.) enjoyed a bird’s eye view of one of the nation’s top political events when he attended the annual State of the Union (SOTU) at the U.S. Capitol January 13.
Small, who is politically active, especially on matters pertaining to the future of coal and opportunities for Native Americans (he is a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation), attended the SOTU as a special guest of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana.
“I was actually out feeding my cows when I got a text from Senator Daines’ chief of staff, asking if I’d be interested in attending,” he recalled. “We live out in the boonies. I said, ‘Shoot, isn’t that next week?’”
Small had to rush to get his suit to the cleaners and make travel arrangements. On the appointed day, he met the senator for photos and a briefing and then rode the underground train from the Senate building to the Capitol.
“It was a grandiose event. I took my seat on the balcony,” says Small. “A lot of it was pretty neat.“
While Small enjoyed the experience, he says he is not a fan of President Obama’s energy policies, especially the Clean Power Plan, and in fact Small has testified against the plan at several EPA hearings.
Regarding Obama’s state of the union address, he says, “It was not good from our standpoint. He made it 100 percent apparent that we were going to get away from fossil fuels and everybody should get ready for it. He tried to make a humorous comment that it was asinine to think you can still work 30 years at the same place. You know, through the craft, you establish yourself in the middle class. You expect [the work and the benefits] to be there when you retire.”
Small says he met Daines, a Republican, when the senator, was a congressman, and over time the two developed a cooperative relationship. “He’s really pro-industry, pro-coal, pro-logging. Those are the things that matter up here.”
Small stresses that many Local 11 members rely on outage work at the 2,100-megawatt Colstrip power plant, located in the Montana city by that name. EPA regulations like the Clean Power Plan along with aggressive environmental activism threaten the continued operation of the four-unit facility, which employs more than 300 people full time. Utilities in Washington and Oregon are partial owners of the plant and sell Colstrip electricity to customers in those states. Both states are under political pressure to cut their ties with Colstrip. The state government in Oregon recently passed a bill to phase out electricity from all coal sources within the next 19 years. The state government in Washington is considering doing the same.