I’m calling a foul on Sen. Alan Olson.
At a meeting of the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee on Sept. 8, Sen. Olson took me to task for what he apparently believes, or wants you to believe, is my indifference to the wellbeing of the coal miners he represents. I don’t care about these folks, he says, because after all, there are no coal miners in Missoula, and that makes me “flippant” about the impact of the EPA’s proposed carbon standards on his constituents.
It just ain’t so.
What apparently got Sen. Olson’s back up here was a letter that I and four other legislators (who somehow managed to escape Olson’s wrath) wrote back in August, objecting to a proposal by Rep. Keith Regier that the committee write to President Obama expressing adamant opposition to the EPA carbon standards. The draft letter Regier proposed to send was rife with indisputable errors of fact, and no matter what position it took on the standards, had it been sent it would have reflected badly on the Montana legislature.*
One point in particular in Regier’s letter that we disputed was the claim that the EPA rules would have a “devastating” effect on Montana. Here’s what we said about that:
Although reducing carbon emissions will inevitably require reduced domestic use of coal (unless cost-effective sequestration can be brought on line), at this point it is impossible to know how much Montana’s production will be reduced. Suffice it to say that nothing in the proposed regulations suggests that production will be eliminated, and any reduction in output and employment in the coal industry that does occur will represent a very small fraction of output and employment in the state as a whole. Moreover, to the extent that the regulations call for accelerated development of renewables and energy efficiency investments, there will be positive impacts on employment and output offsetting negative impacts in the coal industry. Accordingly, it is incorrect to conclude that the impact of the regulations will be “devastating.”
And that’s it. That is the sum total of what we said about potential lost jobs in the coal industry: that they would “represent a very small fraction of … employment in the state as a whole.” Indeed, as Thomas and Donovan Power pointed out in a Missoulian column earlier this week, jobs in coal mining amount to about two-tenths of one percent of all the jobs in the state. And you’ve got to remember that even in the worst case, only a fraction (currently unknown) of those jobs will be lost due to enforcement of the EPA regulations.
What we didn’t say in our response to Regier’s letter was that we didn’t care about what happened to coal miners. We didn’t deny the hardship experienced by workers and their families when they lose jobs and livelihoods. We weren’t “flippant” about anything. And we don’t question Sen. Olson’s good intentions when he fights to keep the people in his district working.
But he should fight clean. We offered a reasoned and, I believe, correct assessment of the potential impact of carbon regulations on the Montana economy. Knowing what that impact will be is critical to formulating the state’s response to the rules. If Sen. Olson disagrees with that assessment, he should explain why. Twisting words to make us sound callous and indifferent is no substitute for that.
*You can read both Regier’s letter and our critique here.