Ryan Zinke

Ryan Zinke

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Montana’s Republican U.S. House candidate criticized on Tuesday his Democratic opponent’s plan to create energy jobs in Montana because it failed to mention oil and gas while advocating tax credits for wind energy and certain coal mining.

Former state Sen. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish said he disagrees with John Lewis’ plan to boost biofuels and wind power production with targeted tax credits.

“Subsidies are the wrong direction,” said Zinke “I’m not against anything, but it has to be cost-effective. I support subsidizing research and development and government has a role there but not for fielded technologies.”

Lewis’ plan, distributed last week, called for extending two tax credits, not enacting new subsidies and building the Keystone pipeline.

Zinke said there’s no difference between a tax credit and a subsidy. “It’s still taking dollars that are public.… It’s still a subsidy.”

Missing from Zinke’s critique is his own position supporting energy subsidies in the past.

“It’s time to wean ourselves from foreign oil and develop cleaner energy alternatives at home. It will be expensive and painful. To pay for it, it would be better to tax foreign oil and mandate using the proceeds to fund our domestic energy independence. Our policy should be to improve efficiency, fund research, store nuclear fuel safely, and build new wind, solar, and biomass facilities,” Zinke wrote in a 2009 letter to the Flathead Beacon.

A 2010 letter to President Barack Obama that advocated the passage of “comprehensive clean energy jobs and climate legislation” signed by Zinke also suggests his criticism of Lewis’ plan is political calculation.

When asked, Zinke denied changing his position. “I was supporting research and development then.… I see fossil fuels playing a major role for the next 50 years,” he said.

Since the 1970s, lawmakers have used the tax code to reach energy goals. The majority of tax incentives have gone to oil and gas companies. Under the Obama Administration, new subsidies for renewable energy companies initially grew but have been on the decline since 2011.

When asked about his support for Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which left intact billions of dollars of tax credits for oil companies, Zinke said, “I agree with the Ryan Budget as a framework.… I don’t agree with subsidizing energy.… I’d have to take a closer look at the specifics to see about recovery of investments made in infrastructure.”

Zinke said he is a geologist and that he has seen no scientific evidence that fracking is environmentally dangerous or that climate change is changing the weather. He said that by increasing natural gas production the U.S. has the opportunity to achieve energy independence.

“Building infrastructure, aggressively looking at fracking and our shale play, which is huge and environmentally safe, looking at coal and coal is as clean burning as you can possibly get, which is clean except for CO2,” Zinke said in a radio interview earlier this year.

“I’m a conservationist, but when there’s a volcano in the Philippines that erupts and produces more C02 than humans have produced in 200 years – is C02 really the problem?”

A U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet on volcanic carbon dioxide production cited peer-reviewed scientific studies that concluded human activities produce 35 billion metric tons per year, dwarfing the 0.26 billion metric tons produced by volcanoes.

As the two candidates try to gain name recognition before the November election, energy is emerging as a key difference between them.

“John Lewis and I just see things very differently,” said Zinke.

Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com.

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Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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