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Obama Weighs In to Support Flathead Protection

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View Sarah Burt's blog posts
09 June 2008, 12:17 PM

This may have been a political no-brainer:

Campaigning in Montana on the eve of the primary, Obama stated his opposition to a proposed open-pit coal mine 40km north of the Canada-US border in the headwaters of the Flathead River, which forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park, declaring that "the Flathead River and Glacier National Park are treasures that should be conserved for future generations."

Putting aside the political expediency of opposing a Canadian mine (no risk of losing the votes of project proponents and job seekers) of longstanding concern to senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Governor Brian Schweitzer (who all also happen to be superdelegates), this is a significant indication of Obama’s support for environmental protection and his recent skepticism of unfettered fossil fuel development.

Coal and coal-bed methane development threatens to dump millions of tons of waste rock into major tributaries of the Flathead River and transform the wilderness of the upper Flathead Valley into a network of service roads, pipelines, well sites, power-lines, pumps, compressors and flaring stations. This would directly impact rare fish and endangered wildlife such as grizzly bear, Canada lynx, and wolverines, by fragmenting habitat and contaminating water.

The statement coincides with petitions filed last week by Earthjustice on behalf of conservation groups on both sides of the border calling for the International Joint Commission, which oversees the Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States, and the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO to assess the threats posed by proposed coal mining and coalbed methane projects in the Flathead watershed.

Obama's interest in the Flathead could elevate the issue to the highest political level and could lead to cooperation between Canada and the U.S., and Montana and B.C., in collaborative management of the transboundary river.

It would be refreshing to see the U.S. flexing its diplomatic muscle to a constructive, rather than destructive, end.

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