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Paul Smith

Dr. Paul Smith is a pediatric pulmonologist in Missoula. 

Last week the state of Montana witnessed their immediate healthcare needs as well as the health and welfare of future generations being held hostage to the wishes of state lawmakers for political gain.

Montana Medicaid expansion failed in the Montana Senate because Republican state senators voted against it in order to garner support for Senate Bill 331. SB 331 would allow NorthWestern Energy to buy a portion of Colstrip’s coal-fired power plant and pass future costs (including cleanup) to Montana residents without Montana Public Service Commission oversight. Montana’s public will foot the bill for coal-generated power without restriction in both the immediate future and for the next several generations (read Libby, Berkeley Pit, Smurfit-Stone).

“There’s a few of us that think maybe we should get something for Medicaid expansion,” Senate Rep. Scott Sales said Thursday.

"We" who? The senators? The Republican Party? Certainly not you and I or the next several generations. Our state senators should remember that neither party is there to garner points or win. The “get something” of all elected officials should be getting something for their constituents.

There is no longer debate that coal adds increased ground, water and air pollution, and most notably to climate change that will affect current and future generations. Coal is losing ground fast economically and will not to be competitive in future markets and is already not competitive in some places. Most major world markets are moving into renewable resources, leaving Montana and the U.S. behind if we do not adjust our approach.

Economics aside, our health and standard of living is at risk. We are already paying more than we would otherwise to sustain the present power generation, clean up discharges and treat health consequences (e.g. externalized costs of asthma, heart disease and other conditions). This is nothing less than socialism for a failing sector. The Montana Senate is threatening magnification of harm by holding the present healthcare needs of children and families hostage for political points. That they would even consider saddling us and our children with these costs (and suffering) is inconceivably inhumane. Our legislators need to work for us, not by creating financial and health debts for our children but by placing basic rights for clean air and water above all else including political gain. Instead, the stance of these senators is to guarantee profits for companies that have historically not worked with the well-being or future of Montanans in mind. That is not the basis of a free-market economy.

I have spent my career taking care of children who have no say in how we protect their health. I cannot watch passively as these senators tell us we have to choose between a blank check to coal-powered energy or basic healthcare needs and clean air. I encourage readers to call their state senators today and tell them the choice is clear. Do not deny Medicaid and do not threaten future generations.

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Paul G. Smith is a pediatric pulmonologist in Missoula. 

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