What happens if we lose Colstrip? “It’ll look like Ground Zero.”
That’s what the mayor of Colstrip told me during a recent visit. To Colstrip moms like Cheryl Fulkerson, it means her husband and her son may both lose their jobs in the coal industry. And, it means the place that she has called home for 21 years may no longer exist.
I could see the tears in Cheryl’s eyes as she introduced me to local officials and business owners concerned about the future of Colstrip. Even the realtor told me, “No homes are selling.”
But it’s not just Cheryl and the folks in Colstrip who will pay the price of the Obama carbon plan, or “the costly power plan” as I call it. The impacts will be devastating across Montana.
Double-digit electric rate hikes. Thousands of jobs lost. I wouldn’t be surprised if the state of Montana would end up seeing more than $1 billion in lost economic activity. That’s certainly what the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research concluded in their comprehensive study.
Colstrip isn’t the only coal community under attack. Recently, the governor’s appointees on the Montana Board of Environmental Review rejected the expansion of the Signal Peak coal mine south of Roundup. Then, we got the news just before Thanksgiving that the Tongue River Railroad would be put on hold, citing permitting delays dealing with Otter Creek coal from the same governor’s administration. These developments are just another bitter pill for eastern Montana to swallow, especially after the governor’s failure to deliver on infrastructure funding.
I was pleased to see both Democrats and Republicans alike speak out against President Obama’s costly power plan. Just before Thanksgiving, hundreds of high-profile Democrats from all across coal country signed on to a CoalBlue letter opposing President Obama’s carbon plan that is threatening communities like Colstrip and thousands of jobs across Montana. Several of the co-signers serve in the Montana Legislature and as county commissioners. I was pleased to see these officials stand up for Montana jobs. Unfortunately, our own governor wasn’t on the list willing to stand up to President Obama and his costly power plan.
If I were governor, I also would have called on our entire Congressional delegation to oppose President Obama’s costly power plan when it came up for a vote recently. We’ve already lost jobs at the Corette coal plant in Billings. The fact that we even have to be saying the words “Save Colstrip” is a failure in state leadership in itself.
The jobs created in and from the mining industry are high-wage jobs, and they’re vitally needed for a state that is ranked 49th in the nation in wages. My wife Susan and I created more than 500 jobs in the high-tech industry in Bozeman. The average annual salary for our employees? Almost $90,000 a year.
Now, we’re fighting to create even more high wage jobs in Big Sky Country. Sadly -- as a result of the administration in Helena, and the administration in Washington, D.C. -- we also need to step up the fight to defend the high-wage jobs that we’ve already got. President Obama’s plan will shut down high-wage coal mining jobs, and vital communities like Colstrip. We need leaders who will stand up and defend Montana.
Greg Gianforte is an exploratory candidate for Governor of Montana. He is the founder of RightNow Technologies in Bozeman.