The Trials of Max Baucus

There is not much to admire about Montana Senator Max Baucus. Since his career began back in 1989, he has done little to earn the respect of his constituents. His convictions are hollow. His soul is vacant. Old Max is just another Washington bureaucrat driven by the almighty dollar.

On February 25 Max invited himself to a meeting in Fernie, British Columbia to voice his opposition to a coal mine proposal of which he claims will “have no economic benefits only environmental consequences — for Montana.” Needless to say he wasn’t welcome.

Over a hundred angry residents came out to voice their opposition to Baucus’ unannounced visit. “I’d like to tell you sir, that you’re actually not welcome here,” huffed Bill Bennett who is a member of a local legislative assembly. “I’ve read what you’ve said over the past 25 years about Canada. You don’t want our softwood in the States. You don’t want our beef. Now you have something against our coal mining.”

At first glance it may seem that Baucus may be taking on the right enemies for a change. The mining project Baucus opposes has already begun in the Upper Flathead Valley, north of the Montana border in Canada. Potential pollutants from the mine could very well make their way into the north fork of the Flathead River, which flows into Montana’s scenic Glacier National Park.

For this Baucus is correct: The mine could cause irreversible harm to Montana’s environment. However Baucus may well have ulterior motives for standing up against the mining outfit.

Canadian based Cline Mining, which is behind the project, has recently moved their business practice back to British Columbia. The company was forced to end its prospecting in Zimbabwe, which it had been drilling in for years, because of political unrest in the country. Now the company has set up shop in BC where it is hopes to sell its coal, which is used for making steel, on the international market.

Surely Senator Baucus is not excited. In 2002, as he ran for reelection, he pulled in over $200,000 from the Electric Utilities and Mining industries, which was the seventh highest among US senators at the time. The contributions from these industries were likely the reason Baucus was the only Democratic Senator to vote against the Clean Power Act that same year. The act had been vigorously opposed by the coal industry as well as the electric utilities industry because it would have regulated the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and most notably — carbon dioxide.

Baucus’ opposition to Cline’s international aspirations is likely due to his hope that he can protect the American coal companies that fatten his campaign coffers. His resistance is certainly not the result of any sort of environmental ethic. Sure Max has stood up against oil drilling along the gorgeous Rocky Mountain Front, but throughout his lackluster career he has had few other qualms with any damaging mining practices.

Like most good Democrats, Max does oppose drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, yet the smarmy Senator voted for George W. Bush’s devastating energy plan. He also voted “no” on defunding renewable energy sources, and has taken thousands of dollars from Halliburton. And this is just the tip of the ice berg, (one of the few that doesn’t happen to be shrinking at the time).

Mining for Max Baucus is also a family affair. As Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn reported in the Washington Post in 1995:

[In the summer of 1994] Phelps Dodge, the mining colossus, announced it would soon begin work on what it heralded as the largest open-pit gold mine in North America. The mine, dubbed the Seven Up-Pete, will be located in the headwaters of the Blackfoot River, where it tumbles out of the Scapegoat Wilderness to join the Lander’s Fork nearly a billion tons of dirt and rocks will be gouged and blasted out, crushed, dumped into heaps, and then saturated by water laced with cyanide, a process that leaches small flecks of gold from tons of rock. Already, exploratory excavations at the site have resulted in the dumping of millions of gallons of arsenic and lead-contaminated water into the Blackfoot River.

Phelps Dodge and its partner, Canyon Resources, expect to gross $4 billion from the mine. If the price of gold rises, the haul may soar to as much as $10 billion … Part of the land alongside the Blackfoot now scheduled for extinction by the mine belongs to the Sieben Company, an 80,000-acre sheep ranch owned by the Baucus family. The Baucus clan now stands to make a great deal of money, since the Sieben Ranch will take home 5 percent of the value of any minerals extracted from their land …

Baucus has since sold his share of Sieben, but the Senator still lists the land as an asset on his US Senate Financial Disclosure Report. And it is unknown how much he’s made from the gold mine, or from the selling of his stake. Yet the land is still in his family’s control.

So is Max Baucus even a bit concerned about the environmental impacts of the mining project he is now opposing in Canada? Not a chance.

Senator Baucus, like most of our elected officials, is looking for the big pay off. His principles are attached to the dollar sign. Unfortunately for Canadian based Cline Mining, they have little to offer the Montana Senator. Indeed they would be better off to move to the US where Max could work for — instead of against — their interests.

JOSHUA FRANK, a native of Montana, is the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, to be released in early 2005 by Common Courage Press. He can be reached at:


JOSHUA FRANK is the managing editor of CounterPunch. He is the author of the new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, published by Haymarket Books. He can be reached at You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank.