What They Didn’t Tell You About the Public Lands Riders

When Montana Rep. Steve Daines and Sens. John Walsh and Jon Tester were celebrating the public lands package they sneaked into a defense bill, I wonder if they thought about the landowners and taxpayers they threw under the bus by doing it.

Their package transfers valuable coal under my family’s ranch and our neighbors in the Bull Mountains to Great Northern Properties, a mega-corporation spun off from the railroad years ago, in exchange for other coal in southeastern Montana. Great Northern Properties gets a windfall by giving up low-quality coal that will almost certainly never be mined and gains high-quality coal next to mines with a high likelihood of development. It’s like trading a trailer house for a mansion.

If this traded coal is mined, the state and federal government lose royalties and give them to Great Northern Properties instead. While I appreciate the intention to return coal to the Northern Cheyenne that was wrongly taken from them, it shouldn’t be done while lining the pockets of a massive corporation.

By making federal coal in the Bull Mountains private, our delegation has taken significant property rights from Bull Mountain ranchers.

It’s a blatant example of a rich corporation writing a law to give itself a handout. Our delegation should be better than that. Tester, Walsh and Daines chose a massive, out-of-state corporation over the livelihoods and property rights of multi-generational Montana ranching families like mine, and they did so at the cost of tens of millions of dollars for Montana roads and schools.

While the lands package does some good, it also continues a tradition of Montana politicians deciding the western half of our state matters more than the east. The bill designates conservation protections for parts of western Montana, but does so at the expense of polluting other areas.

The bill would open the door to more development along the Musselshell River. It would also expedite oil and gas permitting in eastern Montana communities, where rapid development is already causing concerns over public health and safety.

Who is our delegation to decide that the Musselshell or Tongue Rivers don’t matter as much as the Flathead? Many irrigators depend on that water. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If one river needs protection, then others do too — unless our delegation thinks those waters and the people who depend on them matter less.

For my own part, some of the places this bill might open to strip mining include the springs where I got married and the cabin where we took our kids during the summer. My family’s ashes are scattered there. These lands include Native American cultural sites, elk habitat, and pastures where our community has ranched for generations — land that we hope to keep in agriculture for future generations.

Politicians have ignored rural Montanans for years, and are used to giving pork to big energy companies in the hopes that they will get reelected. But just because this is business as usual doesn’t make me feel any better nor does it make it right.

I’m disappointed that Daines, Tester and Walsh don’t seem to know better.

Steve Charter ranches over coal that would be traded by the public lands proposal, and is the chair of Billings-based Northern Plains Resource Council.
More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring