Wednesday, May 17, 2017

THE NEW WEST: Endangered Courage

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Pretending they were cowboys, Vice President Mike Pence, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana donned caballero hats last weekend and cantered their horses up a hill on the Crow Indian Reservation. On a quest to carefully choreograph the right political optics, they struck dramatic defiant poses for the camera, as if characters enlisted for a Marlboro commercial. It wasn’t the first time politicians in wrangler duds have attempted to flaunt their manly bona fides by theatrically stampeding across western sagebrush for effect. Jackson Hole had its own famous episode, an act of rebellion which we’ll get to shortly. Right now, however, it’s special election season in Montana. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton here by more than 20 percentage points in November, but the president’s plummeting public approval ratings nationally, fueled by his erratic personal behavior and concerns his administration may make the health care crisis worse, have GOP operatives in Washington worried. On Saturday, Pence, who was campaigning in the Treasure State on behalf of GOP Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte—in Mr. Gianforte’s bid to win the seat recently vacated by Zinke—autocratically pronounced, “On behalf of the president of the United States, I’d like to declare that the war on coal is over.” Pence’s declaration came not many hours after the same president of the United States signed a trade agreement, increasing natural gas exports to China, that further dooms any possible resurrection of the American coal industry. Few respected economists believe coal is coming back—bad news for a state like Wyoming, swimming in hundreds of millions of dollars of budget shortfalls. Most experts note it wasn’t climate change policy that brought down coal; rather, a glut of natural gas and oil, the development of which was, ironically, zealously pushed by the same Wyoming politicians who are now stuck dealing with an energy market mess they helped create...more

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