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Cuffe steps down from leadership position at international economic group

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | September 14, 2021 7:00 AM

State Sen. Mike Cuffe (R-Eureka) is stepping down from his post as president of Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) after two years of leading the U.S.-Canadian collaborative.

Looking back on his term, Cuffe pointed to a recent summit in Montana he helped orchestrate as a noteworthy achievement. After conducting most of their business online during the pandemic, many members of PNWER were able to meet in Big Sky to discuss regional issues and policies.

PNWER members include public and private sector representatives from the U.S. states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan and the territories of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

While some Canadian officials had trouble crossing the border for the event, Cuffe said more than 300 people attended the Big Sky summit. At least 123 members participated remotely. Cuffe said over 50 Montana state legislators along with other members of the state government attended the meeting.

One of the most momentous results of the conference was an action item calling for Congress to establish a U.S.-Canada commission to examine the effects of the pandemic on the ties between the two countries.

“What we found is the pandemic has revealed the extent and importance of social, economic and cultural ties [between the U.S and Canada],” said Cuffe.

The importance of these ties was particularly apparent in Lincoln County where many residents have family members across the border. Before the pandemic, local business owners relied on Canadian visitors for support. The Eureka area had become popular for residents of British Columbia looking for second homes.

Cuffe noted that due to land border closures between Canada and the U.S. for non-essential travel, many travelers have had to substitute a short drive with a series of flights during the pandemic. For many, this proved to be too expensive.

PNWER members envisioned the international commission taking a 20-year view towards making recommendations. The commission could be funded through Congress with a three-year budget managed by the Woodrow Wilson Center. Members of the panel would include representatives from academic institutions, civil society and the private sector.

During the summit, Cuffe also was involved in discussions about the Columbia River Treaty, an agreement between the U.S. and Canada that governs dams in the upper Columbia River basin.

With the treaty’s current flood risk management provisions set to change in 2024, Cuffe said Canadian dams might soon be able to hold back water needed for Montana agriculture, energy and recreational needs. Cuffe has advocated for renegotiating these terms and pushed for Lincoln County to receive compensation for timberlands it lost with the creation of the Koocanusa reservoir.

As part of discussion on energy, Cuffe helped raise support for sending a letter to the administrator of the EPA asking the agency to allow renewable diesel facilities that use canola oil.

Cuffe said his serving two one-year terms as president of PNWER was unusual. Most presidents only serve a year but due to the pandemic Cuffe stayed on for a second. Cuffe became vice president of the organization in 2015.