Steve Running: Tranel the right candidate to address global pandemics and climate

Steve Running

As I have watched the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I cant help but contemplate the other global crisis that society will have no choice but to confront, climate change.

Global health scientists, having studied earlier epidemics like SARS, Ebola etc, predicted that someday one of these highly infectious diseases would escape regional control and go global. Likewise, global climate scientists have for thirty years been predicting the climate crisis now unfolding.

In both cases, science identified the problem, now all of society must find solutions. In the case of the climate crisis, solutions will require public officials who will be leaders in building a sustainable economy fueled by low emission renewable energy. Monica Tranel, who’s running for the Public Service Commission, will be that kind of leader.

I have devoted a large part of my career as an earth scientist to the study of climate change, and I was honored to be a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change when it received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its historic effort to warn the world of the climate change threat. I wish that since then society had made more progress than we have, but we haven’t. Today the global warming threat is more serious than ever, and need for action is urgent.

Unfortunately, it is apparent that we cannot now count on the Federal government to lead the fight against climate change. On the contrary, since President Trump took office, the Federal government has abandoned that fight and rolled back existing climate policies, such as the Paris climate accord, future auto fuel efficiency standards, power plant emission limits etc. At this point, local and state efforts are our most immediate point of action for addressing the climate crisis.

A pivotal, but rather unnoticed, state agency that regulates investor owned electrical utilities is the Public Service Commission. The PSC should be leading the state in developing policies to transition our electric power industry away from high carbon emission sources towards affordable, renewable clean energy. Unfortunately the current commissioners are looking in the rear view mirror and perpetuating the carbon intensive coal, oil and gas facilities of the past, such as Colstrip 4.

They are adopting policies, buried in technical detail, that artificially make new solar and wind energy proposals less competitive than legacy fossil fuel facilities. The reality is that wind and solar based electric power production is now the cheapest form of new electric power throughout the western US when the full costs of carbon pollution and land reclamation are taken into account. The PSC can also assure that energy companies have an incentive to conserve energy, rather than simply producing more. And it can guarantee renewable energy system reliability by supporting energy storage, modernized grids and regional energy markets.

But the Commission can’t do any of that unless its members are committed and up to the task, and that’s why electing Monica Tranel is so important. As an attorney, she has worked for the Commission itself, but also for the Montana Consumer Counsel and private wind farm developers. She understands what’s needed to drive renewable energy development forward. She knows that it’s important for energy to be affordable as well as clean. As the mother of three daughters, she is deeply concerned about the future. As a former Olympic athlete, she appreciates the teamwork and drive it takes to get things done. I hope you will join me in voting for Monica Tranel for District 4 Commissioner of the Public Service Commission.

Steven Running is Emeritus Regents Professor of global ecology at the University of Montana