Pettinato talks environment, other issues as vote nears

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On June 5, Montana Democrats will choose their nominee to take on U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., in November.
One of the five candidates vying for the party’s nomination is a Flathead Valley native. Jared Pettinato grew up in Whitefish, then attended the University of Montana and Stanford Law School. He litigated a wide range of environmental and infrastructure cases with the U.S. Department of Justice, and currently lives in Bozeman.
Three reasons, he argued, make him the ideal candidate to take on Gianforte.
First, he said, “I’m the only candidate born and raised in Montana, so Montanans raised me and gave me their values” of hard work and supporting one another.
Alluding to Gianforte’s assault of a reporter last year, Pettinato also called himself the “best contrast” with the current representative: “convicted criminal on one side and Department of Justice on the other.”
As the Daily Inter Lake reported in November, shortly after he announced his candidacy, Pettinato’s campaign stresses “the wind and the trees:” development of the massive wind energy potential on the state’s eastern plains and more aggressive timber management in its western forests.
“We need to make Montana a welcoming state for wind and solar,” he said on the first proposal, identifying two steps he would take to advance these sectors if elected.
First, he attacked recent changes made by
Montana’s Public Service Commission that reduced the power rates paid to small renewable energy operations and shortened power purchase agreements.
On a congressional level, he argued, “We can set different standards for what the PSC has to do, so we can give them more guidance ... the other option is maybe involving [federal regulators] a little more in these kinds of decisions when renewable energy companies feel that the Public Service Commission is failing them.”
He said he would also support building state-of-the-art transmission lines to carry Montana-made energy to urban centers.
Timber management, meanwhile, has been a high-profile — and contentious — issue in Northwest Montana, with Pettinato’s would-be opponent, Gianforte, blaming lawsuits from environmental groups for preventing timber management on national forests.
Pettinato, however, sees Forest Service funding as a main part of the problem. In recent years, firefighting has taken up an increasingly large share of that agency’s budget. This trend, he believes, has sapped the Forest Service’s ability to both provide the rigorous analysis of projects that environmental groups demand, and to carry out the forestry projects that timber companies want.
March’s omnibus spending bill aimed to remove firefighting from the Forest Service’s budget, which Pettinato described as the “first step” toward better forest management. But the attorney sees another needed fix for forestry policy as outside Congress’s control.
“We need the Supreme Court to get more involved in some of these lawsuits,” he said. “I think they need to take on more natural resources cases to give guidance to the lower courts.”
Not a two-issue candidate, Pettinato also has his eyes on the nation’s troubled health-care system, explaining that he would back legislation requiring pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs at the lowest price available in another developed country.
While one of the other candidates in this primary, Billings attorney John Heenan, backs a “Medicare-for-all” health-care system, Pettinato doesn’t consider that approach viable. Instead, he favors requiring insurance companies to pay individuals $200 to enroll in the health insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act.
“That way, instead of punishing people on the back end for not having insurance, we give them an incentive up front to buy in,” he said, predicting that this approach will boost enrollment and push prices down.
He acknowledged, however, that “we need to research” this proposal, “and we need to get a cost estimate.”
On another far-reaching financial policy – the Trump administration’s recent tax cuts – Pettinato said that “we need to repeal them. They’re not helping working Americans.” He added that he was in favor of a reasonable tax cut that helps make American businesses more competitive internationally, but this wasn’t it.
Closer to the Flathead Valley, Pettinato said he would back ratification of the hotly debated Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact, now before Congress.
Voters will assess these stances in the June 5 primary, when Pettinato will face Heenan, Williams, Kier and Meyer. Facing this crowded field, the Whitefish native is optimistic.
“I feel good,” he told the Daily Inter Lake. “I think I’ve got all the momentum and ... I think the wind and the trees are getting a lot of the traction.”
“People are coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re the wind and the trees guy,’ which feels great.”
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly

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