Friday, June 24, 2005

Schweitzer on the environment, Part II: pure political brilliance

Who but Governor Schweitzer could turn a water-quality dispute into a state sovereignty issue?

I'm not going to quote from the article because the issue is extremely complicated, but basically British Columbia's government wants to dump coalmining waste in the Flathead River, contaminating Montana streams. Schweitzer is standing in the way of this maneuver in order to preserve water quality and seems to be deliberately provoking an international incident in the process. The BC government seems to have deliberately violated an environmental quality study with this latest project, and Schweitzer's mad.

One proposal Schweitzer has come up with involves a deal where he supports Manitoba's position in a similar dispute where, it seems, North Dakota is polluting their waterways. That way Schweitzer would support sound environmental policy on both sides of the 49th parallel in order to drive a bargain on his own issue.

Which is all clear as mud, probably. But the important thing is that the Governor is showing his competence on the national stage through this action, in two ways.

First, Schweitzer is framing the issue as one of Montana's control over its own waterways. He's fighting for conservation, one of the biggest-government issues around, in language that approaches libertarianism. This is the sort of tactic that can cause landslide victories when Republicans feel the Democratic candidate speaks for them.

Second, Schweitzer, a Western governor who rarely gets involved in international disputes, is honing his foreign policy credentials. The BC-Montana dispute gives us a glimpse of how Schweitzer might react to the sort of international disputes that Bush has been flubbing. While approaching the issue with sufficient swagger to satisfy his home-state critics, he's pragmatic enough to cut a deal with his opponent, and intelligent enough to think outside the box (bringing an entirely different dispute between Manitoba and N.D. into the mix) to give both himself and his opponent favorable terms. This is Richard Holbrooke-type stuff, and bodes very well for the Governor should he be in a position (such as President) in future to conduct more international dealings.


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