A coal mine on the Crow Reservation was the first stop for Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Montana.
After Air Force Two landed, Pence climbed into a waiting vehicle and went directly to the Crow Reservation.
“Mr. Vice President it’s so good to have you here in Montana,” said U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) who accompanied Pence on Air Force Two. “I think it is noteworthy that the plane lands today in Billings and the very first stop of the vice president was to Crow Country and to coal country.”
Westmoreland Resources leases coal from the Crow Tribe and operates the Absaloka Mine on the southeastern Montana reservation.
The vice chairman of the Crow Tribe told Pence his tribe depends on coal. Carlson “Duke” Goes Ahead said this mine provides good paying jobs to about 85 Crow tribal members.
“It’s the lifeblood of the Crow,” Goes Ahead said. “We’ve been surviving on coal for all these 43 years.”
He joined Pence, Daines, company officials, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and others for a short horseback tour to look at an area that was once mined.
The group stopped on a grassy hill that overlooked a verdant area that is now reclaimed. Goes Ahead said coal is important to more than just the tribe.
“Our coal has impacted all the surrounding areas,” he said. “Billings, Hardin. It impacts their economies too.”
Goes Ahead said the downturn in the coal market and regulations from the federal Environmental Protection Agency have hurt their economies.
Last summer the Crow Legislature agreed to a cut in profits from mining to keep the operation going, but that action resulted in a reduction in funding for the tribal government.
Goes Ahead told Pence he hoped the Trump Administration will change a lot of policies.
Pence sat down with tribal officials, company representatives and others after the horseback tour at Westmoreland’s mine headquarters. He said the Trump Administration believes American energy drives prosperity and jobs.
“And we’re going to continue to work with all of you and with these outstanding leaders who are gathered here to continue to drive the kind of policy to develop a strong energy future in Crow Nation and for all of the United States of America,” said Pence.
Pence said President Trump has taken executive action to move the country away from the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which critics have blamed for further hardships on the industry. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, at Trump’s directive, lifted the moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands.
“On behalf of the President of the United States I am here to announce the war on coal is over,” said Pence.
Coal has been on a downward trajectory for a number of reasons, including market forces which have caused utilities to switch to cheaper natural gas to fuel its power plants. There’s also global competition that’s made it unprofitable to export coal overseas.
During the horseback tour, Goes Ahead wanted the proposed coal export terminals to be built on the Pacific Northwest coast to carry coal to markets in Asia. He also asked Congress to make permanent the Indian Coal Production Tax Credit.
“I want to thank Vice Chairman Goes Ahead for your hospitality and giving me an opportunity to be here in Crow Country,” Pence said. “To be able to sit a horse and see that glorious panoramic view that has been the legacy of the Crow Nation for more generations than we can count.”
“It was actually fairly hard to detect where the mining had happened in the past,” Pence said. “I want to commend you and all the leadership of Crow Nation as well as Westmoreland coal company on just not only a prosperous past but great stewardship of the land that is your legacy.”
Pence said the administration wants to "make American energy great again.”
After the visit, Pence appeared at a campaign rally for GOP U.S. House candidate Greg Gianforte.
Montana is holding a special election May 25, 2017 to fill the vacancy left when former-Congressman Ryan Zinke resigned to become Interior Secretary.