Isabel Shaida

I have sat in on several important environmental hearings in the state, including the NorthWestern Energy’s rate case at the Public Service Commission (our utility is asking to raise our rates by 28%) and most recently the House Natural Resource Committee's hearing for HB 971 (a bill proposing to gut environmental protections - exempting the DEQ from analyzing environmental, cultural and economic impacts of mining, air, and oil and gas projects).

There are currently numerous assaults on our human rights going through the state legislature. I have sat in on many of these hearings too. As a young, queer, gender non-conforming person, it is beyond painful to listen to my state lawmakers attempt to negate my trans and two spirit peers, negate people seeking healthcare, negate working class people, negate both renters and unhoused folks.

One would not expect to feel a similar erasure and dysphoria at a hearing about utility costs or environmental regulations. Yet this past week, and particularly during the most recent hearing on HB 971, where public comment was rushed through and our voices as Montana citizens were literally being muted (66 people were present to speak in opposition compared to the 11 lobbyists in favor), my sense of self and my sense of reality felt ripped away.

It is wrecking to hear folks generations older than me disregard long-term human health for the sake of immediate monetary benefit, bewildering to witness complete disregard for our air and waterways in order to protect a dying industry. People in power are turning a blind eye to not only my future but the future of their own children. What are they doing?

We could be having conversations of possibility, of generation, of new opportunities. We could be looking straight at the threats to our habitable environment and working together to envision and enact solutions that will allow us to live healthy lives well into the future.

In 10 years, I want to be able to pick up my child - who I have chosen to bring into this world with hope and excitement for the life they will live on this land - and walk down the street and talk with our neighbors to solve shared problems…..

This is a future where electricity and power is delivered through a public service utility, owned by all Montanans, with a commitment toward lowering rates and community and environmental impacts toward zero. Affordable, non-polluting power is a right enshrined explicitly and concretely in our state constitution, along with other rights to ensure liberty, happiness, self expression, and safety.

This is a future where social and economic wellbeing is prioritized over the consolidation of wealth, we - all people - show up and participate with a mindset, a presumption of value, that there is always something we can do. In this future we invest in relationships with ourselves, each other and the planet around us - we recognize we are not alone - we think about how we feel - we take time - we value interdependence. This is a future where security comes from linking arms with one another.

What would it look like to provide a society that did not produce scarcity? What would it look like to produce a stable climate relationship to the planet?

This is a future I can share with my children.

Why is this not the conversation we are having in the state capitol?