With a hotly contested senate race underway, as well as the Presidential campaign, Montanans barraged with political ads may be tempted to tune out politics.  Yet they can’t ignore the consequences of the policy decisions being made by their political representatives.  One place they see those consequences first-hand is at the gas pump.

Gasoline prices in Montana reached $3.79 in September, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge report.  Nationally gas prices have climbed about ten percent during the past year, and are close to doubling from when the President took office in January 2009.

Fluctuating gas prices are no surprise, and Americans know that prices can be affected by events—from hurricanes to Middle East turmoil—that policymakers can’t control.  However, energy policies are an important factor in the determining the long-term supply of fuel and the regulations that govern energy production and use.  Ultimately, these decisions dictate the trajectory of fuel costs.

Montanans should take note that Senator Jon Tester has consistently been on the side of those policies that make energy more expensive, from discouraging oil exploration to crippling regulations on coal-production to an effective tax on carbon, which would raises the cost of just about everything American families buy and use. 

For example, Senator Tester voted against the Offshore Production and Safety Act of 2011, legislation that would have restored the ability of American companies to seek energy resources and ensured an efficient permitting system.  The inability of energy companies to move forward in the process of developing new energy supplies not only affects how much energy we will have in the future and future prices.  It also impacts prices today, as suppliers take into account their expectations for future costs.   

Tester has also been a supporter of cap-and-trade legislation.  The term cap-and-trade and the exact process of how such a system would work, with companies buying and exchanging carbon permits, can be confusing.  The bottom-line for Montana residents is that a cap-and-trade program would function as a tax on carbon.  Its express purpose is to discourage the use of energy and release of carbon by making it more expensive.  That means higher costs for gasoline, manufacturing, home heating and cooling—and just about everything else that requires power. 

Analysts have estimated that cap-and-trade would ultimately result in the loss of 8,600 jobs in Montana, reduce the total income of state residents by more than $330 million by 2030, and leave Montanans paying 20 percent more for gasoline by 2025.  Tester had promised to consider how any cap-and-trade proposal would affect Montana’s “consumers, small business, and family farms and ranches.”  Yet the impact of any such legislation is clear: It would be a blow to the state economy, increasing the cost of living and doing business, but he supports the policy anyway. 

While Democrats haven’t garnered enough support to pass cap-and-trade legislation, the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has moved forward in regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and greenhouse gas.  Congress took up an amendment to block that move—which not only would be costly for the American economy and individual families, but represents a power-grab by unelected agency officials—but Tester voted against it, thereby green-lighting EPA’s potentially massive new intervention into the American economy. 

Overly-burdensome regulations and restrictions on development are more than just another factor pushing prices higher for families and employers.  For Montana, they are also a tremendous lost opportunity.  Montana sits atop one of the largest sources of crude oil in the United States, the Bakken shale, which has the potential to be an important source of energy for the country and jobs for the state.   Current policies make it difficult to make the most of this critical natural resource. 

Montanans may want to ignore the latest campaign commercial, but they shouldn’t ignore how the policies candidates support will impact their future. 

Carrie Lukas is a vice president of the Independent Women’s Voice.