I must comment on Ron Selden's article on the Flathead Indian tribes and the Yellowstone Pipe Line Co. (HCN, 3/4/96). Did Selden ask any questions at all, or was the article written by the tribal spokeswoman?
First, I won't defend Conoco's spill record - it sounds abysmal. They should be made to pay fines and clean up the damage. But it should be under the direction of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Since when did tribal folks become environmental experts and enforcers?
Second, what the Indians are doing to Conoco is defined as extortion. The Indians are literally holding the pipeline (which was operated under a valid lease for 40 years) hostage for huge sums of money. What do college scholarships and cash for cultural programs have to do with a pipeline lease?
Conoco's pipeline provides gas and fuel for every person between Billings and Spokane; and when tribal leaders paint Conoco as a greedy firm, they forget it provides a vital public service for the region. Forcing Conoco to truck and rail fuel around the reservation puts the environment and human health at higher risk because this is statistically more accident prone than pipeline transportation. Conoco is right when they say "we will prevail." They will because every resident and tourist in western Montana and northern Idaho, including the Indians themselves, will continue to buy lots of gasoline.
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