Earlier this week, Premier Gordon Campbell waxed eloquent about the Pacific Northwest Economic Region - an organization that brings together private and public sector leaders to promote "the economic well-being and quality of life for all citizens of the region." Speaking with The Globe and Mail's Gary Mason, Premier Campbell called the economic region, which met in Alaska this week, "the future of governance. Too often institutional inertia holds you back from doing things. The only way to move forward is to get together a group of people of like minds and say, â€˜Let's act.'" But it seems Montana public service commissioner Ken Toole isn't as enthusiastic.
In a news release distributed today, Mr. Toole expressed concern about the "undue influence" of "big corporations" which fund the council's annual summit meetings - corporations such as BP p.l.c. and TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. Both companies, according to release, are promoting coal bed methane development - an environmental bugbear - in the Flathead Valley, which stretches between British Columbia and Montana. As a result, Mr. Toole has concluded the council is "clearly heavily sponsored by special interest corporations trying to influence public policy that is not interest of Montanans."
In response, council policy and communications director Neil Parekh dismissed Mr. Toole's concerns. "Most of our budget actually comes from federal dollars - both U.S. and Canadian money along with state and provincial dues," he explained. "So having the private sector involved is part of the mix. But, by no means, an undue influence.â€ The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned news release.
PSC Commissioner and MontPIRG Question Montana's Participation in Corporate Sponsored Policy Junket
Expressing concern about undue influence by big corporations Public service Commissioner Ken Toole is criticizing the Pacific Northwest Economic Region Council (PNWER).
"Any time we see big corporations contributing $50,000 and up to any organization we know they are only doing it to promote their bottom line," said PSC Commissioner Ken Toole.
Toole's criticism came in response to the Annual PNWER Summit occurring this week in Anchorage, Alaska. PNWER is an IRS registered 501(c)6, or common business interest organization, that deems itself a "statutory public/private partnership." The organization holds annual summit meetings, which are funded through large corporate sponsorship, for elected state legislators from participating Northwestern States and Canadian Provinces.
PNWER is the only 501(c)6 that is codified in Montana Law: Montana's participation in PNWER is mandated under 5-11-702 of the Montana Code. PNWER has numerous policy committees that convene on topics ranging from the energy to the environment. Each of these policy committees is co-chaired by an elected official from participating states and provinces and a corporate representative.
The PNWER home page provides a list of sponsorship levels available to corporate interests. For $50,000 a corporation receives recognition as a 'Diamond Sponsor,' their corporate logo on the PNWER homepage, and invitations to join delegates in Ottawa and Washington, DC.
Toole said he issued his public statements after receiving numerous e-mails from constituents in the Flathead Valley expressing concern over BP's recent proposal for a massive coal bed methane (CBM) development in the Canadian Flathead at the headwater of Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake. The gas will be transported to markets in pipeline owned by TransCanada.
Toole said, "CBM in the Canadian Flathead will jeopardize water quality in the entire Flathead Basinâ€”including Flathead Lake. I dug around and found out that the two of the big energy corporationsâ€”BP and TransCanadaâ€”promoting this bad idea also happen to be top level PNWER funders."
Toole concluded, "This so-called public private partnership is clearly heavily sponsored by special interest corporations trying to influence public policy that is not interest of Montanans.
MontPIRG, a non-partisan public interest advocacy organization, joined Toole in questioning PNWER's lack of transparency and excessive corporate influence.
"Montana's participation in PNWER is contrary to our state's long history of open, transparent government," said MontPIRG Executive Director Matt Leow. "Public policy decisions that affect the lives of everyday Montana's should be made in Montana-not exclusive meetings with corporate sponsors that cost $425 for the public to get in the door."
"PNWER is clearly a sophisticated lobbying operation," said Leow. "While corporate lobbyists have full access to lawmakers, everyday citizens are completely shutout of the discussion."
Leow added that he hoped the 2009 Montana Legislature would thoroughly examine Montana's participation in PNWER. "MontPIRG would like to know if Montana taxpayers are paying for this, and if so, what are citizens of Montana getting in return?"
Go to http://data.opi.state.mt.us/BILLS/1997/mca/5/11/5-11-702.htm for the MT PNWER Code.