Yesterday saw yet another intriguing development in the debate over ExxonMobil's contentious Kearl Module Transportation Project (KMTP) as a new coalition of 13 Idaho- and Montana-based organizations announced its support for the big rigs. The Drive Our Economy task force touted the KMTP as a boon for economic activity in both states, claiming ExxonMobil's Alberta-bound tar sands mining modules would bring in an estimated $80 million. Pat Richardson, Clearwater County President of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, issued the following on behalf of the task force:
Idaho farmers and businesses rely heavily on our roadways to move our products and to keep Idahoans employed. That’s why the Drive Our Economy task force includes such a wide range of area business groups, agriculture groups, and interests. We’re working to ensure that our businesses can continue to freely use local roadways. Outsiders like the Natural Resources Defense Council are using scare tactics around these "mega-loads" to drown out a productive discussion about what’s best for Idaho and effectively take this debate out of local hands.
Even a quick glance at the list of participating organizations is enough to raise eyebrows; among Drive Our Economy's members are the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Coal Council and the Montana Business Leadership Council. Not necessarily surprising when you consider the task force's message that Idaho and Montana highways "cultivate tourism, provide access to global markets for farmers and ranchers, support regional military facilities and foster the continued growth of vital industries like mining and energy," but still worrisome considering the clout these organizations have. With the Montana Department of Transportation as yet undecided on issuing ExxonMobil the required high-and-wide permits, the emergence of such a weighty conglomerate of advocates could have a profound impact on the outcome of this debate.
As concerning, but on a different level, is the presence of the Western Legacy Alliance on Drive Our Economy's member list. On its website, the Alliance claims to strive "to preserve the working landscapes and lifestyles of the American West" and lists among its goals a desire to "identify and respond to challenges that threaten working landscapes" and to "work with land managers today to guarantee more choices and healthier landscapes for the land management of tomorrow." Funny, considering one of the most pervasive questions within the debate over the KMTP is the potential damage the project could cause to pristine river corridors like the Lochsa, Clearwater and Blackfoot—rivers that support numerous industries from agriculture to outfitting to ranching. From the Lochsa River Conservancy, an Idaho-based watchdog group:
The area was set aside as wild and scenic in order to keep it undeveloped, to allow tourists, locals, and others a beautiful experience along one of the most remarkable rivers in the Western US. It makes no sense at all to have Highway 12 along the Clearwater and Lochsa serve as a heavily traveled truck corridor, and especially not with these massive rigs from the KMTP, and all the highway development and disruption that will come from it.
And the Alliance seems to have completely overlooked the final destination for these big rigs, an extensive mining operation that certainly doesn't look like a healthy landscape.