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5 US House candidates speak conservation at Bozeman forum

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Democrats support a responsible Keystone XL pipeline

By Taylor Anderson, Big Sky Weekly Assistant Editor

Five Democratic candidates for the U.S. House piled into the Beall Park Recreation Center in Bozeman Feb. 12 for a forum hosted by the Montana Conservation Voters.

Montana candidates — from Billings, Helena, Whitefish, Missoula and Bozeman — gathered in the Bozeman park house and spoke to a group of mostly members of the 13-year-old political watchdog group.

The group, a membership-supported group of 35,000, mixed basic candidacy questions with more pressing issues, like the Keystone XL pipeline proposed by TransCanada to span from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.

Some candidates shared support for the pipeline. Most said the only way they’d favor the Keystone was if the proper caution and evaluation of ecological risks was made.

Franke Wilmer, a member of the Montana House, said unless the pipeline would assure more jobs economic benefit she wouldn’t support it.

“If this would guarantee more jobs, cleaner environment and lower dependence on foreign oil I would support, but they haven’t done that yet,” she said.

Rob Stutz, the former Montana Legislature chief legal counsel, said in an interview after the forum that he supports a recent proposal to drill oil out of the Bakken formation in eastern Montana.

“That would decouple the economic benefit and the jobs that we’ll have here in Montana with the environmental problems with the Alberta Tar Sands,” said Stutz, who’s running for public office for the first time.

Coupled with open-minded approach to the pipeline, the candidates expressed similar support of reforming the tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies, and shifting to help the green jobs industry.

Though estimates vary, oil companies receive billions – perhaps as much as $280 billion annually, estimated by the Progressive Farmer – in tax loopholes and direct subsidies.

“We need to end these tax holidays…and invest dollars in expanding and encouraging renewable resources,” said Kim Gillan, a member of the Montana Senate.

Stutz called for an end to special interest group influencing lawmakers to create policies that help oil companies increase profits.

Candidates also lined up handily behind Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act creating 660,000 new acres of wilderness in three Montana national forests. The bill has seen opposition from Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is giving up his seat in the House to challenge Tester, a Democrat.

Audience members that night also included many campaign workers sporting pins, banners and sign-up sheets for their respective campaigns.

One member of the race not present was Republican Steve Daines, formerly uncontested for his party’s seat until author and engineer Eric Brosten joined the race in early February.

Daines’s campaign didn’t return emails from the Big Sky Weekly requesting comment on conservation issues.

Jason Ward, a Democrat, didn’t attend the forum.

The MCV holds its annual meeting March 9 and 10 in Helena, but Dave Tyler, chairman of the Gallatin-Park County chapter said the group decided it won’t endorse a candidate for the congressional race until after the primary election.

“We typically don’t endorse unless it’s a race we want to act in and frankly if we think we can influence it,” Tyler said.

The primary election for the congressional race is June 5.

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