President-elect Donald Trump has promised a lot of change after he’s sworn in next month. MTPR Capitol reporter Corin Cates-Carney sat down with Montana Governor Steve Bullock earlier this week to talk about what some of those changes could mean for Montana.
Corin Cates-Carney: Do you see your role as Montana's Governor changing with President-elect Trump, maybe some things happening with the Clean Power Plan? That was something you've spoken about in different ways. You were critical saying, if we need to address climate change it should be done in a sensible way. Do you see that happening in a Trump Administration?
Steve Bullock: I have said, and it wasn't just during the campaign, no matter who is right as the president, it is my job to represent Montana's values, Montana's interests, Montana's needs. There's any number of times that I represented those and reflected those to the current administration that was on a different path than what the current administration believed. Now when it comes to our energy future, I've had some conversations where this affords us a real opportunity too because we do need to address climate change.
CCC: What can you do as the Governor of Montana that could be independent of federal action in reducing carbon emissions?
SB: We can do work on our terms, meaning that it's not just say no, we have to do this because the federal government is saying X, Y, and Z. It makes sense for us to further invest in renewable opportunities, further invest in energy efficiency, and have proposals for that. Further continue to work on investing in power, you are going to produce energy from coal and other natural resources that are less intensive on the environment. I think energy companies recognize that there's definitely some shifting of the grounds that doesn't change the obligation and the opportunity to move things forward in many ways.
Look, we have the best wind potential once Texas actually leaves, succeeds from the country. I've had, in the last four or five months, I've had large scale solar companies wanting to have discussions about locating in Montana. We are an exporter of energy.
So we can do things, first from conservation, one of the things I'll be proposing is about a $5 million fund that localities can take advantage of for energy efficiency and conservation, not only helps folks with their energy bill but it saves energy long-term. From my perspective, coal will continue to be a part of our energy future but there's been more technological changes right in our phones and how we produce energy from coal in literally decades, so let's work together with this new administration as we were beginning to work with the U.S. Department of Energy under the current administration, let's work with our partners and neighbors, states like Wyoming and say, let's help design that energy future working together, recognizing that there won't be substantial changes and that's irrespective of the administration over the next one years, two years, but we can start setting that path long term.
CCC: The President-elect has talked about repealing or replacing the Affordable Care Act. What impact do you think that would have on Montanans?
SB: It's a fun parlor game, but it's a little premature to say, "what will the federal government do?" Uh, Montana has 64,000 more folks covered by health care because of the bipartisan help, and that's just on Medicaid expansion alone. We've seen our insurance rates drop significantly. The majority leader of Congress recently asked all governors for their input as they go forward and the states have a significant role in what happens in Washington D.C. It can't just be statements and statements and a statement is saying, oh I'm going to repeal The Affordable Care Act without saying what you're going to do to replace it.
CCC: What do we need to do when there is a blank statement without clarity? What's the role of the governor now to reassure folks who rely on that?
SB: If there is a transition it could be 25 different directions, so saying we're going to work towards a transition that doesn't even exist yet I think would be premature. I think that one of the concerns folks have about the new administration generally is just the uncertainty. Not knowing what this is going to look like in so many different areas. So, to say that, let's continue taking measured steps as we go forward, because we don't know what changes might happen at the federal level and let's continue to mind, as folks are talking about making changes at the federal level, it has real impacts, it has impacts not only to individuals now covered by health care it has impact especially to a state like ours with 147,000 square miles, it has impacts to smaller rural hospitals, impact to businesses. And so if you want to make a statement and get rid of the Affordable Care Act, you better have that solution for what's that going to mean to us in the states.
CCC: Do you see any change in agenda there on the federal level that could impact Montana on public land access?
SB: Yeah, I mean, that's my big question above my pay grade, meaning the administration isn't even fleshed out. Congressman Zinke was pretty clear that he recognized the value of these lands as one of our great, presumable he recognizes it as one of our great equalizers and importance to the economy, to our economies, so whatever steps that might happen in Congress or in the executive branch I will make certain that they recognize where I fundamentally believe that Montanans come down on this and these are lands that belong to all of us and should stay in public lands.
CCC: Regarding Representative Zinke, if his nomination is confirmed, Ed Buttrey of the Republican Party put his name forward as someone who could run. How do you feel about his representing Montana in Congress and do you see anyone in your own party who could make a good candidate?
SB: I think a whole lot of folks are fleshing out what they want to do and who is going to run and it's an interesting because it's a party nominating process. Before you even get to that, certainly not going to weigh in on who the Republicans might nominate or who the Democrats might nominate at this point, but ...
CCC: No one you see that would be a standout candidate for the Democrats?
SB: I think there's a lot of folks that are starting to talk but that's one that I'm not, you know, I also recognize that, in the role of governor, it's a pretty loud bully pulpit and it's not my job to decide who aught to be our party bearer in that.
That was Governor Steve Bullock speaking with MTPR's Capitol Reporter Corin Cates-Carney.