The Senate is in the process of wrapping up votes on a broad, bipartisan energy bill , and a number of senators have jumped in with last-minute amendments. That includes Montana Senator Steve Daines, who yesterday proposed a crafty amendment to tip the scales in favor of industry when it comes to the coal leasing reform by the Department of the Interior.
Whereas Interior’s reform process is transparent, popular, and includes options for public comment at each step along the way, Senator Daines’ amendment would shift this process in favor of the already heavy-handed coal industry. Already, taxpayers in Montana are losing out on nearly $19 million in annual revenue due to loopholes in the coal leasing system that industry has taken advantage of–$19 million that could cover all kinds of critical parts of stretched local budgets, such as supporting 433 teachers, 235 firefighters or 312 construction workers.
Apparently, that’s not a concern for Sen. Daines. His amendment would set up a minerals committee to review any proposed changes to the federal leasing program. Yet membership for the committee is hugely exclusive, and skews influence towards the coal industry and coal-producing tribes. In fact, Sen. Daines is playing favorites—he’s only letting tribes that are actively producing coal have a seat at the review table, completely cutting out voices like the Northern Cheyenne, whose tribal government has called for a better way to approach the issue of fossil fuel development on public lands.
The fossil fuel industry already has a serious grip on Washington, yet Sen. Daines wants to give them more influence by handing them actual power over how America’s public lands are managed. Nothing could be more backwards when we’re thinking about what’s at stake—taxpayer dollars and our American heritage.
And that should scare you, because Sen. Daines also—on Tuesday—voted to essentially give away our public lands. Sen. Daines voted in favor of an amendment by Utah Senator Mike Lee that would take away the power to protect public lands for the public, instead handing over that power solely to on-the-ground decision-makers like—you guessed it—powerful industry players.
Regardless of what happens with this energy bill, it’s time for Sen. Daines to wise up and stop pandering to the coal industry—it’s not fair to the rest of his hard-working Montana constituents.