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Video: Rep. Zinke & Billing’s Union Leader, Mike Johnson, hold hearing fighting for Montana coal jobs

June 14, 2016
Press Release

Video: Rep. Zinke & Billing’s Union Leader, Mike Johnson, hold hearing fighting for Montana coal jobs

Johnson: “I lost a darn good-paying job…These coal miners don’t have anyplace to go.”

(CONGRESS) June 24, 2016 – Today, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke and the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on Zinke’s bill, H.R. 5259, The Certainty for States and Tribes Act, which reestablishes a watchdog panel of non-federal stakeholders to weigh in on natural resource policy as it relates to mineral development on federal lands. Panel participants would span across tribal and state governments, environmental organizations, and business and trade groups. This will help improve flexibility to allow Montana’s energy producers to thrive, protect thousands of good-paying jobs, and provide needed support for government and community services. Watch the video of the full hearing here. A full transcript of the exchange between Rep. Zinke and Mr. Johnson is below.

Billings area Union leader Mike Johnson testified in support of the measure.  Mr. Johnson is a Business Agent for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 400, out of the Billings office who represents eastern Montana including Westmoreland Coal’s Absaloka, Colstrip, and Savage mines.

“This Administration is waging a war on coal. We’ve seen how hard hit Montana is as a result. Earlier this month the Billings Gazette reported a story about schools in eastern Montana losing revenues for the use of collegiate research resources that many of these smaller communities depend on,” said Rep. Zinke. “In communities like Colstrip and other small communities, coal and other natural resources are the only answer. For the great coal nation of the Crow, there’s treaties. The treaties specifically state the United States shall not interfere with their destiny if they choose to mine their coal. As a sovereign nation they have every right to export their coal as they choose. But when the government gets in the way, as we have done, we have violated a treaty. This is why my bill, H.R. 5259 is so important. It’s about transparency. It’s about a process that all can participate in. It’s about a process where we look at the different factors and together in a collaborative effort to make this country better.”

Billings Operating Engineer Mike Johnson testified: “I’m a working man from Montana. I’m not a doctor or a lawyer or anything, but I personally suffered from federal mismanagement of public lands in western Montana. I’m a displaced worker from a paper mill. I now work in eastern Montana, and people don’t understand the impact that these jobs have on the lives. I saw about five of my friends commit suicide after the mill closed. My wife had cancer, I lost my healthcare, I lost my darn good paying job. The Crow Tribe derives 95 percent of its income from their coal leases. They’re currently in the mine at about half employment. About 80 people laid off. The Crow tribe has laid off about 25 percent of their workforce off because of a lack of coal revenue… It’s a very, very hard situation to have your life turned around like that and people don’t realize the effects on the workers. I just believe that the tribes and the states that are impacted deserve a seat at the table when we are talking about these issues.” (full remarks below)

"The Obama administration’s anti-energy regulations and job-killing policies are devastating to our state and tribal economies,” said U.S. Senator Steve Daines. “We need to continue to work to provide certainty, that the government won’t pull the rug out from under our economy.  Moving this bill through the legislative process is a step in the right direction.  I thank Representative Zinke for joining me in this effort and his leadership in the House of Representatives.”

Among other provisions, the Certainty for States and Tribes Act would:

  • Reestablish the Royalty Policy Committee (RPC), including Governors of States, their appointees and Indian Tribes who produce federal minerals, to advise and inform the Secretary in the formation of policies and regulations; ensure greater transparency in creating royalty and leasing policy for mineral production from federal and tribal lands.
  • Place a firm, reasonable timeline on the programmatic review of the federal coal leasing program to occur.
  • Allow for existing lease applications (LBAs) and modifications (LBMs) who are under National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) review by the Department to move forward.
  • Ensure the federal coal lease program lease sales are conducted in a timely and consistent manner following completion of respective NEPA reviews.

The Certainty for States and Tribes Act is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Cynthia Lummis (WY-AL), David McKinley (WV-01), Scott Tipton (CO-03), Paul Gosar (AZ-04), Kevin Cramer (ND-AL), Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Bill Johnson (OH-06), Tom McClintock (CA-04), Jason Smith (MO-08), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01) and Dan Newhouse (WA-04). The Senate bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Steve Daines (MT) with support from Senators Mike Enzi (WY), John Barasso (WY), and Orrin Hatch (UT).

TRANSCRIPT

Opening Statement From Ryan Zinke

(Timestamp 19:38) As we all know revenues from natural resources development on federal lands are critical and essential to this nation and Montana. They fund a lot of programs in Montana to include our schools, roads, public safety. The tax revenue collected from coal, oil, and gas, goes to power our local communities. That said, this administration is waging a war on coal, specifically, and other natural resources and fossil fuels. We’ve seen how hard hit Montana is as a result. Earlier this month the Billings Gazette reported a story about schools in eastern Montana. The loss of revenues specifically the use of collegiate research resources that many of these smaller communities depend on. To some this may seem unimportant because these stories are becoming the norm. But for communities like Colstrip and other small communities, coal and other natural resources are the only answer. For the great coal nation of the Crow, there’s treaties. The treaties specifically state the United States shall not interfere with their destiny if they choose to mine their coal. The problem is we are getting in the way of a treaty. Either the tribes or they are not: they are sovereign. As a sovereign nation they have every right to export their coal as they choose. But when the government gets in the way, as we have done, we have violated a treaty. This is why my bill, HR 5259 is so important. It’s about transparency. it’s about a process that all can participate in. It’s about a process where we look at the different factors and together in a collaborative effort to make this country better. It is not about global warming or coal, it is about a process that allows  our communities a say. When the federal government becomes so overbearing that a state and a small community have no say, that’s exactly the problem we face today.”

Opening Testimony From Mike Johnson

(Timestamp 37:18) Hi, I’m Mike Johnson, I’m a working man from Montana. I’m not a doctor or a lawyer or anything, but I personally suffered from federal mismanagement of public lands in western Montana. I’m a displaced worker from a paper mill. I now work in eastern Montana, and people don’t understand the impact that these jobs have on the lives. I saw about five of my friends commit suicide after the mill closed. My wife had cancer, I lost my healthcare, I lost my darn good paying job. The row tribe derives 95 percent of its income from their coal leases. They’re currently in the mine at about half employment. About 80 people laid off. The crow tribe has laid off about 25 percent of their workforce off because of a lack of coal revenue. They predict the big decline in coal that’s due to the natural gas prices. But natural gas prices have gone up 25 percent in the last couple of weeks. But as we continue to cut oil production natural gas production is going to continue to rise. You can put the few hundred square miles of wind farms up but there is maybe five jobs. I mean you got a few hundred jobs for a few months while you’re building the windmills but afterward there is no work. And these people who have lived there for generations and generations don’t want to have to be retrained. They don’t want to have to relocate. Most of them, the average age of coal miners is 55, most of them are too old to retrain to restart a new career. They want to retire. It’s a very, very hard situation to have your life turned around like that and people don’t realize the effects on the workers. I just believe that the tribes and the states that are impacted deserve a seat at the table when we are talking about these issues. Thank You.

Zinke Statement

(Timestamp 1:23:16)  Thank you, Madam Chairman. You know it’s interesting in the discussion where you say “well you are going to make a transition away from coal.” What’s driving that? Coal remains still the cheapest and most reliable energy on the face of the planet. Period. And yet the regulation and environment -- and yet I agree that its and all of the above solution -- but certainly to knockout coal in lieu of all of the other commodities makes us less competitive as a nation. And to lock down an asset where we can’t even export it, while the world is burning lower grade coal. Montana and Wyoming are blessed with low sulfur coals. So it makes no sense whether you are on left or right of the global argument. To burn cleaner coal is a better step than to burn dirtier coal.

And it's inconvenient that the rule-making process, I think, would incorporate state and local input. And I understand 92,000 comments were made. On the Waters of the US some of those comments were tweets, “I like clean water.” That isn’t really a comment. We all like clean water. So and you look at it for 3 years. World War II was fought and won in 4 years. And we can’t make a decision with the assets that are made available to us in 3 years? How far have we come as a nation and how great is the bureaucracy that we are immobile.

We are a great country, and I think looking at it, three years is an appropriate time. If they want to do a review certainly that was enough time for this. And I just think the audacity to hold the Secretary accountable. Because by law, on significant issues of NEPA, the Secretary is mandated to respond, and I agree.

But to have an Advisory Board, and we’ll clean up the language, but to have an Advisory Board that gives the communities that are dead center giving them a weight  that’s weight is greater than “I like clean air” I think is appropriate. Because what you are doing is you are taking communities that are at dead center and adjusting what they have as a future based on an agenda. And I agree with the minority that the federal land belongs to all members and we must make sure to protect these in perpetuity, but it is also about multiple use.

Zinke Q&A With Deputy Assistant Secretary on Land And Minerals Management Amanda Leiter

(Timestamp 1:26:10) Zinke: So with that my question is with Ms. Leiter: So earlier this year in testimony Secretary Jewell, which I know and respect, signaled her support for legislation which would limit the timing of coal lease moratorium to 3 years. That was in testimony to Senate Interior Appropriations Committee. Now you have stated the Department strongly opposes this. Do you not; are you and Secretary Jewel not on the same page on this?

Leiter: So she is on the record that she very much hopes this takes under three years. She and I will both be out of a job in 7 months, and we can’t of course hold the next administration accountable to the timeline of their practice. There are very significant questions on the table, and also a very significant public input process to be gotten through. So while we certainly intend to identify this suite of questions this review would…

Zinke: Do you think 3 years is enough time?

Leiter: I certainly hope that would be enough time, but my concern is that if you have a date certain the deadline..

Zinke: You mean that would hold people accountable.

Zinke Q&A With Mike Johnson

(Timestamp 1:27:34) Zinke: What advice would you provide the department on appropriate balance between environmental protection and resource development? I mean what do you see? Did we do it right in Montana?

Johnson: In Montana the state lands are managed very well;  the federal lands have not been managed very well at all. In the timber resources they’ve got 5 million acres that are dead and needs to be thinned and cut, and they’ve shut down all the infrastructure there to do it. So you have to ship it China, it’s terrible. Now I’m on the other side of the state and the coal definitely needs to be managed better than it has.

Mike Johnson’s Closing Remarks

(Timestamp 1:54:28) I attended the listening session in Billings and the 92,000 comments the anti-coal lobby is handing out cards for people to sign and send in. Those people shouldn’t have as much weight on what is affecting our state and our tribes as we have in the state and in the tribes. We deserve a seat at the table in this matter.

 

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