Gov. Brian Schweitzer has taken a tough public stance against ExxonMobil in the days following the 44,000 gallon Yellowstone River oil spill. Schweitzer has said he’ll be on Exxon “like smell on skunk” and that the Yellowstone River won't be clean, "until Montana says it’s clean.” Schweitzer has publically accused Exxon officials of not being transparent, directing security guards to keep the press away from the unified command center, and not being honest about the true nature of the spill. He's said that the company's interests "are not aligned with Montana's interest," and that ExxonMobil officials' "primary goal here was to limit the liability to the shareholders, not to be straightforward with the details of the spill and subsequent cleanup."
One Politico headline initially proclaimed that “Montana gov has boot on neck of ExxonMobil,” though the headline was recently changed to somewhat less hyperbolic “Montana gov on ExxonMobil like 'smell on a skunk.’”
Many environmental groups – including representatives from the National Wildlife Federation on a conference call to reporters last week — have lauded Schweitzer for his hard-line approach to dealing with ExxonMobil during the disaster.
But others have accused Schweitzer of talking out of both sides of his mouth on the issue. They cite Schweitzer's ardent support for coal, oil and gas development in Montana, his backing of ExxonMobil’s plan to truck more than 200 massive Korean-built tar sands processing modules across the state into Canada, and his support for Keystone XL pipeline, which would pipe Canadian tar sands crude (the same type of crude that fouled the Kalamazoo River when an Enbridge Energy pipeline burst there last year) from the Montana-Canada border to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Schweitzer on Wednesday told NPR On Point host Tom Ashbrook there is no contradiction between his support for fossil fuel development and his hard-lined response to ExxonMobil’s cleanup of the Yellowstone:
“We’re going to continue to develop energy in Montana. We’re an energy state. But we will not be a sacrifice zone for this energy’s needs. We will develop this energy on our terms, we will protect the landscape and the wildlife of Montana for this generation and future generations, and that energy that we develop in Montana will be developed on our terms.”
The Montana Environmental Information Center’s Jim Jensen doesn’t buy the notion that fossil fuel energy development can be “done right,” as Schweitzer and others claim.
“They’ve never done it right yet,” Jensen said on the same hour-long radio program.
As for Schweitzer, Jensen had this to say:
“Just two weeks ago he had a well-publicized meeting here in Helena with ExxonMobil executives and the result of that was him telling us that we should trust them to haul these massive loads of equipment up the Snake River, up the Lochsa River in Idaho and then the Blackfoot River in Montana into Alberta where they are developing these massive, hideous tar sands…he is a short-skirt cheerleader for that project.”
Missoula Independent columnist and former longtime environmental lobbyist George Ochenski also criticized Schweitzer for his continued support of the megaloads and Canadian tar sands development:
“Schweitzer has been a big booster of allowing Exxon to ship mega-loads of oil production equipment to Alberta's tar sands on Montana's two-lane highways. He also cheers on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would be two and a half times larger than Exxon's ruptured line and transport tar sands crude across Montana. We can only hope when he finally gets a first-hand look at the destruction such corporate failures engender, he might reconsider his far-too-cozy relationship with Big Oil. His allegiance should be to Montanans, not Exxon Mobil.”
I recently asked Schweitzer if his lack of trust in ExxonMobil and their lack of transparency in dealing with the Yellowstone River oil spill has colored his views on the Keystone XL pipeline or Exxon’s impending megaload transportation project.
Here’s what he had to say:
“Well, as I've said from the very beginning, we would trust but verify. But at least as for the pipeline division I'm down to verifying and then verifying again.
“Any study that has been conducted on megaloads has been conducted within the context of the Montana Environmental Policy Act, and (the company) and the Montana Department of Transportation are following the Montana Environmental Policy Act to the letter of the law, as the public expects us to do.”