GEORGE OCHENSKI: Montana Democratic leaders stuck in a coal dilemma

2013-07-08T08:00:00Z 2013-07-08T08:21:05Z GEORGE OCHENSKI: Montana Democratic leaders stuck in a coal dilemmaBy GEORGE OCHENSKI
July 08, 2013 8:00 am  • 

Montana’s top Democratic officeholders are firmly stuck on the horns of a dilemma. Namely, they have been cheerleading “drill, baby, drill” for Bakken oil and gas and “dig, baby, dig” for as much coal as possible. Toss in the unflagging support for the Keystone XL pipeline from Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and former Governor Brian Schweitzer, and it’s pretty hard not to conclude that Montana’s Democrats seem to have universally adopted Sarah Palin’s “all of the above” energy policy.

Unfortunately, that puts them fully at odds not only with President Barack Obama’s newly announced initiative to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants, but with many of their core constituents who very much want to see Democrats lead the nation away from polluting fossil fuels.

The problem Montana’s Democrats are now facing can be laid at the feet of Schweitzer, who was infamously dubbed the “Coal Cowboy” by national media for his over-the-top promotion of coal during his two terms in office. It’s easy to remember Schweitzer’s big Montana State University energy conference in which he hauled in so-called “experts” from around the world primarily to promote his scheme of turning Montana coal into liquid fuel.

If the term “snake oil” comes to mind when recalling his hucksterism while waving around his tiny vials of coal-derived oil, it’s no surprise. PT Barnum had nothing on Schweitzer as he endlessly hawked his idea and promised developments that would make Montana the world leader in coal-to-liquids production.


Of course, all that happened almost a decade ago now and guess what? There’s still not a single coal-to-liquids operation under our Big Sky and it’s not likely any will be forthcoming soon. Apparently the technology Schweitzer assured us was ready for roll out at commercial scale wasn’t exactly as he portrayed it.

But Brian being Brian, if you didn’t get on his coal bus – especially if you were a Democrat – you could expect to get thrown under it, which is exactly what happened to those who questioned or opposed Schweitzer’s big plans for coal.

The disconnect between his vision and reality must have hit Schweitzer sometime in his second term, when he realized coal-to-liquids wasn’t going to happen. So, the snake oil vials got put back in the desk drawer and Schweitzer turned to “carbon capture” as his next effort to promote the fictional entity known as “clean coal.” All we had to do, according to Schweitzer, was capture the emissions from coal plants and pump them underground into the vast geologic formations he assured us were perfect for that purpose.

Only that didn’t happen either. But that didn’t stop or even slightly detour Schweitzer’s plans for hauling millions of tons of coal annually from the undeveloped Otter Creek tracts. Schweitzer’s fellow Land Board members, including then-Attorney General, now Governor Steve Bullock, pretty much ignored the protests, acted like the stark evidence of climate change’s mounting impacts on our forests, farms and rivers didn’t exist, and went along with Schweitzer’s plan to lease the Otter Creek Tracts to Arch Coal.

As we now know, all the talk about “clean coal” is pretty much over with. Otter Creek’s coal, if it’s ever fully developed, won’t be turned to liquid fuel and won’t be burned in carbon capture facilities. Nope, it’s slated to go to China and other Asian nations where it will be burned in thermal generation plants that spew old-fashioned pollutants by the millions of tons.


And that’s the core of the dilemma. Since there’s barely a discernible difference between Montana’s Democrat and Republican “all of the above” energy policies, how do the Democrats here square their stance with Obama when it comes to tackling the enormous challenges of climate change?

The magnitude of the issue facing Montana Democrats was evident when Bullock reacted to Obama’s pledge to have the Environmental Protection Agency draft more stringent rules for power plant emissions. “We’re an energy state. We make and export energy. That is part of what we do,” Bullock told reporters, adding that he would wait to “see the details” of Obama’s plan.

Global warming’s increasingly disastrous impacts are not waiting, however. Although late in the game, Obama has taken his first steps in the right direction. Montana’s Democrats would do well to dump the Schweitzer-Palin energy platform, face the fact that “clean coal” is a huckster’s myth, and lead the state forward toward a coal-free energy policy that serves the long-term needs of Montana, not China.

George Ochenski writes a weekly column for the Missoulian’s Monday Opinion page. He can be reached by email at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(7) Comments

  1. GaryTinkSanders
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    GaryTinkSanders - July 16, 2013 5:23 pm
    @Claudius, even if the Earth is warming it is still 20% to 30% cooler than it's high point in history. This is providing that some of these scientists got it right. I would rather be at the warm end over the cold end of the spectrum.

    What that history shows, the researchers say, is that over the past 5,000 years, the Earth on average cooled about 1.3 degrees (Fahrenheit) – until the past 100 years, when it warmed ̴ 1.3 degrees (F). The largest changes were in the northern hemisphere, where there are more land masses and greater human populations.

    Read more at:

    I am not worried that the sky is falling.
  2. apteryx05
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    apteryx05 - July 09, 2013 4:12 pm
    Johnny Dollar, please report back to your day care facility. It's time for your meds.
  3. claudius
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    claudius - July 09, 2013 12:14 pm
    Sorry Roger. The same silly lies you've been repeating are still ..... silly lies.

    Global temperatures have continued to rise.

    The actual science (as conducted by actual scientists) has always been clear about climate change and the impact of industrial pollutants contributing to it.

    Multiple independent assessments of "Climategate" all proved that the only fraud involved was by the criminals who tried to create a scandal where none existed.
  4. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - July 08, 2013 1:22 pm
    George even brings up the specter of global warming, to try to frighten gullible people into supporting far-left causes. There's been no warming for 16 years, and there's no correlation between carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures - CO2 does not drive climate change. Of course there's plenty of corrupt "scientists" who support that nonsense (recall the emails of ClimateGate), but the actual science tells a different story.
  5. BigTree
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    BigTree - July 08, 2013 10:24 am
    Once again George hits the nail right on the head with Brian Schweitzer. He was never able to secure a cabinet post with the Obama Administration because of his pro-coal stance. His touting of coal-to-liquid technology and carbon-capture ideas was a bridge to far for most environmental power brokers.

    Remember when he showed then Senator Obama Crow Agency and introduced him to Tribal leaders who shared Schweitzer’s pro-coal ideas. Why shouldn’t they, they have one of the largest clean coal deposits in the world and they want to develop it. Senator Obama was not impressed, he thought he was there to convince Tribal Leaders and then Governor Schweitzer that coal was the way of the past and new (unproven) and greener energy is the way of the future.

    This visit backfired for Schweitzer largely because Obama saw Schweitzer for what he is, an opportunist. Obama did feel somewhat beholden to the Governor and gave him a speaking slot at the upcoming Democratic National Convention Schweitzer would go on to further damage his reputation at a national level by dancing and yelling during his speech. Realizing that he was never going to join Obama’s inner circle, he publicly flaunted that he may run for President in 2016 just to spit the national Democratic Party but they we’re impressed with his politics or his dancing ability.

    Schweitzer’s pro-coal lobbying puts him squarely at odds with the Obama Administrations anti-coal policies and regulations and undermined his ability to raise funds within the rich in NY and CA for his upcoming senate race. It will be interesting to see how he plays this off. I’m betting he attempts to paint himself as a reformer from the outside the DC power circles.
  6. johnny Dollar
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    johnny Dollar - July 07, 2013 10:13 pm
    NOBODY reads "George O."'s just like Sally Mauk.............stirring the pot of discontent among the 8 or 9 readers who bother to take a look - lol
  7. AL KIPF
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    AL KIPF - July 07, 2013 9:27 pm
    GEORGE OCHENSKI: Montana Democratic leaders stuck in a coal dilemma

    "Montana’s top Democratic officeholders are...... at odds....with....their core constituents"

    George, you obviously are deluded by the (R) (D) dialectic coupled with the emotive driven platform that props up this facade with a minority of Americans. Statists such as yourself use emotion rather than facts and Natural Law to support your agenda; examples of which are "the children", "the terrorists", "global warming", "climate change", "gun control", "abortion rights" and on and on.

    Further, George, statists such as yourself have supplanted the traditional institutions of American society with the central state, at which altar you worship. Fortunately, George, you are representative of a minority of the population of the United States. It is only through lies, obfuscation, fraud, legal abrogation and usurpation and extra Constitutional means the statist agenda has been carried out.
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