Schweitzer, don’t back oil sands projectmissoulian.com | Posted: Friday, October 15, 2010 8:00 am
Dear Gov. Brian Schweitzer,
I remember the stirring speech you gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2008: "We face a great new challenge, one that threatens our economy, our security, our climate and our very way of life. ... This costly reliance on fossil fuels threatens America and the world ... We need a new energy system that is clean, green and American-made."
That day I was proud of my governor for being on the side of the future. Now, I'm not so proud. These days you say, "We need energy and the safest supply right now is coming from places like Alberta," meaning the dirtiest type of fossil fuel, extracted from tar sands. And then you say, "this is conflict-free oil."
I'm afraid, governor, that Alberta's tar sands oil is in no way conflict-free. Putting aside big-time environmental objections, let's focus on conflicts in Montana. The equipment necessary to mine and extract tar sands oil is gigantic. It is manufactured in Asia, not in the U.S. or Canada. Super trucks are needed to haul super machines, and the shortest, cheapest way to haul them from South Korea to Alberta is across the Pacific, up the Columbia and Snake rivers, then overland through Idaho and Montana. We will be the sacrifice zone for super profits for multinational corporations such as Exxon and Conoco, and foreign countries such as Holland, South Korea and Canada. Their plans, which your administration seems to be backing, would transform Highway 12 - a national scenic byway along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers - and Highway 200, along the world-famous "River (That) Runs Through It" - into a permanent industrial corridor.
Big rigs are 220 feet long, up to 29 feet wide and 30 feet tall, and when loaded will weigh up to 650,000 pounds. They will take up both lanes of highways 12 and 200 - narrow, winding, cliffside roads - and are heavier and longer vehicles than any two-lane in Montana was built to hold. Accidents are sure to happen. Only a couple of weeks ago, a diesel tanker slipped off Highway 12 and spilled 7,500 gallons of fuel, endangering the Lochsa River. What if it had been a big rig?
Think of what's coming. It's like a monster movie. Every night for who knows how many months, giant mechanical beasts will traverse our countryside and pass through towns such as Lolo, Missoula and Lincoln. They will delay emergency services and local traffic, depress property values, destroy historic and archeological sites, and harm tourism and recreational businesses that are the lifeblood of our communities.
In exchange, what will Montana get? As you, yourself, have said, "Since when has (an) oil company ever been interested in jobs? Let's be honest ... it's green technology that is creating the most jobs right now ... 10 times more than any other sector."
Here's what we'll get: low-paying jobs for highway workers who hold the stop-and-go signs on Lolo Pass and Rogers Pass in sub-zero temperatures; some work for police and local contractors; a few million dollars for state coffers that will in no way offset the profits the oil companies will reap by taking our shortcut. And what will Montanans pay? Taxes, of course, due in the long run to repair our damaged infrastructure; defaced rivers and valleys; and a probable net loss of jobs from tourism and recreation.
But it' not too late. We don't have to be a colonial state. This insult to our way of life can be stopped before it starts. Please, governor, return to your call for green energy and help the concerned citizens of Montana stop the big rigs from running over us. We've seen enough damage from heedless corporations to learn our lesson. Just look at the BP oil disaster in the Gulf; Massey's coal miner deaths in West Virginia; the dead and still dying people in Libby.
As a longtime resident of the Blackfoot Valley who loves her home place, as a grandmother who wants to pass the Montana she prizes on to her three granddaughters - and on behalf of hundreds others determined to protect our way of life - I suggest that you and your administration rethink your policies and keep those big rigs off our roads.
Annick Smith is a writer and filmmaker who lives in the Blackfoot Valley.