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Last week Montana’s lone congressman, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, gave an address to the Montana Legislature. Perhaps best known for body-slamming a reporter, then lying about it and finally buying his way out of a serious and well-deserved assault charge, Gianforte echoed President Donald Trump’s agenda of cutting taxes and regulations as the path to a robust economy. Unfortunately, Gianforte appears as unhinged from reality as his fellow mega-millionaire now sitting in the White House.

“Imagine if Montana took a page from our national pro-growth playbook,” said Trump parrot Gianforte, claiming that government should “get out of the way so all Montanans and Americans can prosper again.”

Ironically — but actually rooted in reality — Gianforte’s call for getting government “out of the way” came only a day after Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality released a whopping estimate of at least $700 million to remediate Colstrip’s ash ponds. Perhaps Gianforte would like to step forward and pick up the tab since Colstrip’s ability to generate such an enormous sum to deal with the pollution the plants’ 50 years of operation has left behind is seriously in doubt.

It’s even more incredulous that Gianforte claimed: “Government does not create prosperity, the private sector does.” Yet, what it actually appears the private sector has created in Montana are enormous, ongoing and incredibly expensive industrial pollution problems. There’s the largest Superfund site in the nation, the Butte-Anaconda-Clark Fork mining and smelting disaster now entering its fourth decade of so-called “cleanup” efforts with no end in sight — and not much “cleanup” either.

Or how about the ongoing deaths and illnesses from the Libby asbestos tragedy? Then there’s the abandoned Smurfitt-Stone Container plant near Missoula, leaking incredibly toxic and nearly impossible to remove dioxin into the confluence of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers.

It would also be good to know who will wind up paying for treating the “perpetual pollution” from the Golden Sunlight, Zortmann-Landusky and bankrupt Pegasus mines. So far, it’s Montana taxpayers who have forked out millions and will continue to pay to address these problems generated by Gianforte’s lauded “private sector.” As Francis Bardanouve, one of Montana’s true visionaries whose bust is permanently displayed in the Capitol to honor his decades of legislative service, often said, “they got the gold and Montana got the shaft.”

“Government should and must create an environment where businesses can grow and thrive,” was Gianforte’s sage advice to the Legislature. Of course he forgot to mention the vast clearcuts scarring Montana’s forested lands left behind by Plum Creek when they “liquidated” their timber holdings in the '80s due to an almost complete lack of regulations on private timber corporations. Plum Creek’s executives reaped millions and definitely “thrived” — but left behind tens of thousands of acres of destroyed knapweed-infested lands and a spider web of logging roads that have sloughed so much sediment into pristine streams that the bull trout that lived and thrived there for millennia are now in danger of extinction. Plum Creek, which walked away from the problems, is now a tax-dodging real estate investment trust.

Make no mistake, Gianforte is in lock-step with Donald Trump on the “get it while you can” philosophy of greed is good, more greed is even better, and don’t worry about future generations because, as Trump said, “I won’t be here.”

If Gianforte really wants to make government better he could take one simple step — resign and give his congressional seat to someone who will nurture Montana’s and the nation’s dwindling natural resource base instead of ravaging it for quick corporate profits.

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George Ochenski writes from Helena. His column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. He can be reached by email at oped@missoulian.com.

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