by John S. Adams, Tribune Capital Bureau
HELENA — Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Dirk Adams is trying to position himself as the environmental candidate in the three-way race for the Democratic nomination.
But some of Adams’ critics say the political newcomer has only lately arrived at his liberal positions on issues such as coal development, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and wilderness protection.
Adams is running against former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, and establishment-favorite and newly appointed incumbent Sen. John Walsh.
Bohlinger, a former Republican, served eight years as former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s lieutenant governor. Walsh, the former adjutant general for the Montana National Guard, served as Gov. Steve Bullock’s lieutenant governor before Bullock in February appointed him to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in Washington, D.C.
Adams, a former banking CEO who ranches near Wilsall, is outspoken about climate change and wilderness and says he’s the only candidate on the campaign trail who has made the environment a top issue in his campaign.
Early in his campaign, Adams came out against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian oil sands crude through Montana to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. Later he declared coal “dead,” saying the country needs to focus on conservation and renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.
On Wednesday, Adams threw his support behind the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, a sweeping bioregionwide bill that would designate 24 million acres of roadless wildlands in five northern Rockies states as wilderness, including 6.7 million acres in Montana.
The bill, which was written and spearheaded by the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies, has been introduced five times in the House since 1993. At its peak in 2004, the measure had 185 co-sponsors. Adams said if elected in November he would introduce the bill in the Senate.
“I’ve been in many of the areas covered by NREPA: the national parks, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Rocky Mountain Front, the Idaho Primitive Area, and those areas in the northeast corner of Oregon in the Wallowa Mountains,” Adams said. “I think trying to protect all of that as one ecosystem, and allowing for corridors so animals can have genetic diversity, and we get some certainty about logging, are good reasons to work on this bill. I’m delighted to say the first legislation I’m filing (if elected) is that sucker.”
Adams said he supports NREPA because it “doesn’t stop at state lines” like Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act and former Sen. Max Baucus’ Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, two collaborative bills Walsh is now co-sponsoring in the Senate.
Adams said that lack of action in protecting this natural ecosystem has led to listing of lynx and bull trout under the Endangered Species Act and has resulted in increased litigation with timber companies. Adams said NREPA would put an end to lengthy and costly legal challenges to timber sales by drawing clear lines around protected areas and let logging companies and the Forest Service know where they can and cannot log.
“NREPA addresses these tensions while dealing with habitat protection scientifically,” Adams said.
Bohlinger commended Adams’ support for NREPA.
“I applaud Dirk for his stance,” Bohlinger said in an email. “We need a forest management plan that stretches across the Northern Rockies. … This bill will start the conversation from which a workable compromise can be crafted.”
Walsh’s campaign called the measure a top-down approach most Montanans don’t support.
Walsh spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said Walsh supports “made-in-Montana” public land bills.
“(NREPA) fails to give all Montanans a seat at the table and has been promoted without full and fair input,” Passalacqua said. “There are real solutions, including the North Fork Watershed Protection Act and the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, that were developed by and for Montanans — and that require real work to overcome Washington politics preventing them from passing.”
Earlier this month the Montana Conservation Voters endorsed Walsh after meeting with all three Democratic primary candidates.
Adams and Bohlinger criticized the endorsement.
Adams said he doesn’t understand how MCV could endorse a candidate whose campaign website doesn’t contain the words “environment,” “climate” or “wilderness.”
“Walsh talks about developing natural resources, and he never uses the words climate change,” Adams said. “Either John Walsh doesn’t believe climate change is real, in which case I’m totally baffled by what MCV did, or he’s not telling the voters that he believes in climate change.”
Walsh’s campaign said Walsh supports construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, but on the conditions that the company, TransCanada, develop and implement an energy response plan to protect landowners; that the materials used are American-made and comply with strict industry standards and that property owners are safeguarded from loss of land and health risks associated with the pipeline.
Bohlinger also supports the Keystone XL pipeline, but only if environmental safeguards are in place and the oil would be used for domestic consumption in the U.S.
Walsh and Bohlinger also support coal development in eastern Montana.
“Coal remains an important part of Montana’s economy, and the technology for burning it continues to improve,” Passalacqua said. “Sen. Walsh believes we must also create jobs by investing and developing more efficient and renewable energy resources.”
Bohlinger said developing eastern Montana’s vast coal reserves could provide huge revenues for the state while the world transitions from carbon-based fuels to renewable resources such as solar and wind.
As for climate change, Passalacqua said Walsh as the former head of the Montana National Guard saw firsthand the effect of climate change in Montana.
“Sen. Walsh was dispatched to disasters that ranged from severe floods to wildfires, and many the result of a changing climate. He also knows it affects Montana agriculture and tourism and it poses a serious threat to the economic and national security of our nation,” Passalacqua said. “Congress has a responsibility to prevent further effects by setting goals for efficiency and leading the transition toward renewable energy development.”
Montana Coservation Voters director Theresa Keaveny said the MCV panelists who voted on the endorsement examined the candidates’ records, their public statements, reviewed their answers to questionnaires and considered the candidates’ “electability” before voting to endorse Walsh.
Keaveny said Bohlinger’s record as a Republican legislator was mixed on environmental issues. The organization was also concerned about his lack of campaign funds heading into a race that will likely see millions in spending, she said.
Keaveny said Adams delivered strong environmental talking points but didn’t back them with substantive policy proposals. Adams also lacks a track record of supporting environmental causes, Keaveny said.
“We don’t believe Dirk Adams has positions or a record that would back or substantiate his newfound environmentalism,” Keaveny said.
Keaveny said MCV was also troubled by Adams’ past financial support of Republican candidates who had poor records on the environment.
“What we do know about him, in terms of what’s on record, is that he’s given money to candidates we think are backed by known polluters,” Keaveny said.
Keaveny said Walsh, while head of the Montana National Guard, ordered the installation of solar panels at the Fort Harrison in Helena and at the Great Falls Armed Forces Reserve Center, to cut down on the facilities’ reliance on carbon-based energy.
Keaveny said Walsh was also a member of Bullock’s administration when Bullock vetoed bills MCV characterized as “attacks on the renewable energy standard” as well as bill that “undermined local renewable energy projects.”
“He definitely held up the record of the Bullock administration,” Keaveny said.
Adams said MCV’s endorsement of Walsh failed to acknowledge that Walsh is facing a three-way primary challenge.
“They could have endorsed a couple of candidates. They could have endorsed no candidates and stayed out of the primary. Not only did they endorsed in the primary, they endorsed in a way that made it sound like there was only one candidate in the primary, John Walsh,” Adams said. “I would say that it’s disappointing that MCV signed up for Democratic corner-cutting.”