Montana GOP officials blast Biden’s environmental actions

President Joe Biden’s new administration wasted no time taking executive actions aimed at combating climate change and protecting the environment. And Montana’s top Republican leaders have wasted no time criticizing those actions, saying they will kill jobs and make the United States more dependent on foreign oil.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale and Gov. Greg Gianforte each have criticized Biden’s decision to halt construction of the long-disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would run through six states, including Montana, on its way from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Biden revoked a permit for the pipeline Wednesday in a flurry of executive actions just hours after his inauguration. Environmentalists and some Indigenous groups oppose extracting more crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands because the refining process emits more greenhouse gases than other types of oil. They also have raised concerns about leaks and spills, though pipeline proponents argue it’s a safer way to move oil than trucks and railways.

In a letter urging Biden to reconsider his decision, Gianforte called the decision “a symbolic gesture” that will have “real and devastating consequences in Montana,” including the loss of jobs and tax revenue. He noted the pipeline has received support from Montana’s congressional delegation, including Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, and former Democratic Govs. Steve Bullock and Brian Schweitzer.

“With its construction terminated, the oil will still reach markets in the U.S. and around the globe,” Gianforte wrote. “Without a pipeline, though, it will be transported more slowly by trucks and other means, endangering the environment, delaying delivery and making it more expensive for consumers who are struggling to make ends meet amid the pandemic.”

Rosendale, who began his first term in Congress this month after serving as Montana’s state auditor, wrote a similarly measured letter to the Biden administration, saying he was “dismayed” by the decision to halt construction of the pipeline and urging the president to consider.

Daines, meanwhile, has taken a more combative tone. In one of several statements emailed to reporters this week, his spokeswoman, Katie Schoettler, said Biden had declared “war on American energy and union jobs.” And on Friday, Daines appeared on Fox News to accuse Biden of putting “Saudi Arabia first” and “yielding to the far-left radical extremists.”

Daines, Rosendale and Gianforte each waited weeks to recognize Biden’s presidential victory and took steps to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. Daines and Rosendale then attended Biden’s inauguration, while Gianforte sent Montana National Guard troops to the event amid heightened security concerns in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The Montana Republicans’ vocal defense of the Keystone XL could put Tester, the state’s lone congressional Democrat, in a difficult position in the Senate, where his party now holds the narrowest possible majority. Fighting for reauthorization of the pipeline could put Tester at odds with some members of the party, for whom curbing the use of fossil fuels is a top priority.

“Sen. Tester is disappointed by this decision and is reviewing appropriate next steps,” Tester’s office said Friday in a statement to the Daily Inter Lake. “He continues to support the responsible development of the pipeline as long as it is constructed with American steel, built to the highest safety standards, respects private property rights and includes significant consultation with impacted tribes.”

DAINES ALSO blasted Biden for moving to rejoin the Paris Agreement, the international accord aimed at reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Though the agreement is nonbinding, Daines called it “a poorly negotiated, fatally flawed treaty that represents a bad deal for American families everywhere, especially in Montana.”

Lastly, Daines took aim at Biden’s decision to suspend new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits on federal lands and waters. Schoettler, his spokeswoman, noted in an email that royalties from oil and gas drilling support the Land and Water Conservation Fund, saying “no more oil and gas” would mean “no more conservation program.”

The executive action by Biden’s acting Interior secretary, however, does not affect existing permits, and the LWCF is in no danger of running out of money. Congress last year authorized $900 million per year in LWCF spending.

“Montanans expect a fair return on our natural resources from our public lands,” Tester’s office said in a statement. “Sen. Tester will keep working to ensure that as we lease these natural resources, we’re getting that return for taxpayers without impacting any current development or jobs and ensuring that the LWCF remains fully funded. The Biden administration has made clear this review will not impact any existing natural resources work, and Sen. Tester will hold them accountable to that promise.”