Northern Plains works toward social justice, civic engagement, environmental protection, democracy, rural vitality, and government accountability. These principles are evident throughout our work and across our issues. To accomplish our mission, our goals are to:
• Broaden and deepen the number of Montanans participating in the process of government and other institutional forces that affect their lives;
• Balance the relationships of power among citizens, corporations, and government; and
• Achieve outcomes—public policy, case law, technology, on-the-ground practices, attitudinal changes—that promote clean water, family-based agriculture, civic participation and an ethic of stewardship.
Key issue goals include:
1. REDUCE DEPENDENCE ON FOSSIL FUELS
-Prevent development of Otter Creek coal tracts.
-Prevent construction of the ill-conceived Tongue River Railroad.
-Prevent coal companies and railroads from imposing health, public safety, and economic costs onto communities bisected by coal-hauling rail routes.
-Prevent public minerals from being leased or swapped for a fraction of true value.
-Protect the rights of landowners in the path of destructive fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure projects.
-Uphold Montana's constitutional provision for the right to a clean and healthful environment and its prohibition against wasting water.
2. TRANSITION AWAY FROM FOSSIL FUELS.
- Remove institutional and economic barriers to energy efficiency and distributed renewable energy.
- Create a regulatory environment that is favorable to distributed generation of renewble energy.
- Make tangible progress toward changes in rural electric co-ops that increase member control and transparency in decision-making, and that elevate discussions of renewables and energy efficiency to make them more available to members.
- Build a Homegrown Prosperity campaign that develops a path of sustainable, local, and just economic development that would replace the economy based on fossil fuels and industrialized agriculture.
3. STRENGTHEN FAMILY-BASED AGRICULTURE
-Promote availability of local foods for consumers and institutions.
-Restore a fair marketplace for family ranchers.
-Protect farmers and ranchers whose land and livelihoods are threatened by extractive development projects.
4. ENSURE THAT METAL MINING IS DONE RESPONSIBLY
-Oversee mining practices in the Stillwater Good Neighbor Agreement.
5. BUILD CITIZEN LEADERS
• Through community organizing and public education, we raise public understanding of the issues and mobilize citizens to be part of the solution;
• Through trainings and leadership development, we strengthen the voices of citizens;
• Through lobbying, litigation, and agency work, we hold public officials accountable.
Some of Northern Plains' special strengths include:
• Face-to-Face Organizing – Northern Plains has a staff of community organizers whose work focuses on face-to-face organizing, developing the kind of relationships that lead to a more intense involvement by our member-leaders than with most organizations. We have worked hard to achieve important successes by involving people when it really matters.
• Leadership Development and Civic Engagement – Northern Plains provides leadership opportunities and training, both in formal and informal settings. We are known for our leaders who are very engaged in the governance of the organization. It is our leaders, not staff, who act as spokespersons for the organization and who run our meetings. Northern Plains' leaders are never strangers to the policy process.
• Discipline – Northern Plains is very disciplined about structuring our issue campaigns. We walk ourselves through a set of questions and exercises to ensure that we are clear about what we want to achieve and the steps we will take to win.
• Stamina – Northern Plains knows from experience that the difference between success and failure is often our simple ability to stay in the ring against a more powerful adversary. In many issue campaigns, our leadership have been involved longer than the staff of companies and the government. Tenacity has won many a campaign.
• Building Bridges between Agriculture, Environmentalists, and Tribal People – Northern Plains is an environmental group that was founded by cattle ranchers. For 41 years, we have maintained our credibility as an advocate for family farming and ranching, and this helps us reach an audience that's inaccessible to many environmental organizations.
Northern Plains is a co-founder and member of WORC, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, which allows us to play a fuller role in federal legislative and regulatory processes.
Each of our issue campaigns is guided by a member task force. Task force members annually develop a campaign plan for their issue, and our board of directors oversees Northern Plains' overall work.
In addition to our issue task forces, Northern Plains has affiliate groups working in 13 communities in 10 counties. These affiliates serve as wellheads of local power that work year-round to inform and engage citizens. Our affiliates can turn out people, generate comments, speak out with local spokespeople, lobby decision-makers and generally lead their communities to address issues in which they have a self-interest. Their activism is genuine and local, which bestows tremendous credibility to our often very controversial issues. Each affiliate elects its own leadership and is represented on the Northern Plains board of directors.
Describing Northern Plains, the Billings Gazette editorialized: "They confound the common view that ordinary people are powerless in the face of industry."
From evaluations at the end of staff team and task force meetings, to annual campaign evaluations, we constantly assess our strategies, celebrate our victories, and make adjustments where necessary. Each October, we conduct a formal evaluation and annual planning to prioritize our efforts and issues for the coming year.
• In planning each issue campaign or activity, we always establish our goals and objectives which often involves very specific and measurable outcomes such as numbers expected to turn out, numbers of new members, number of new leaders, etc.;
• After each meeting or action, participants evaluate whether we got what we wanted, what we did well, what we want to do better or differently, and how to follow up;
• Two to three times per year, our task forces evaluate their progress and make course corrections if warranted;
• Each October, the Board holds an annual planning and prioritization session to determine our campaigns' directions and allocate resources and staff among strategies; and
• Once every three to four years, we will buy poll questions on our existing poll to measure how well our message and name recognition penetrates the Montana public.
In evaluating issue campaigns, we ask ourselves whether we got what we wanted, what we did well, what we want to do better or differently, and how to follow up. We eliminate activities that do not produce sufficient results in light of the energy and resources we put into them.
Marks of success include:
• Inspiring vigorous public participation in the decisions regarding natural resources and the performance of public officials;
• Elevating our issues (e.g., press coverage/earned media; outreach through publications, website, public events; person-to-person outreach);
• Achieving policy outcomes in the regulatory and legislative arenas, and in the courts;
• Building our organization (e.g., membership growth; new leaders and spokespersons).
Northern Plains' overarching goal is to protect family farms and ranches and small businesses, our water, air, lands and our unique quality of life in Montana. We are committed to civic engagement and provide the information and tools necessary to give citizens an effective voice in decisions that affect their lives.
For the past 44 years of our existence and currently today, Northern Plains has protected key agricultural watersheds and landscapes.
• We protect the Tongue River Valley from severe water and air pollution and unmanageable pressure on community infrastructure that would result from additional coal strip mining. Because of our efforts, the largest coal strip mine currently proposed in the US is still not developed and has received no permits. We continue to prevent the construction of the Tongue River Railroad, a coal line first proposed in 1977 which would cut apart family farms and ranches, start fires, and spread weeds. Both the railroad and coal mine are years behind schedule.
• Northern Plains has worked hard to stop coal ports proposed in the Northwest. We held people's hearings in Montana and have brought Montanans to testify in person at official hearings.
• Northern Plains has for years pressed the United States government to reform to federal coal program. Real progress is finally being made, and Northern Plains led the charge for reform at Dept. of Interior listening sessions in Montana and in Washington, DC.
• The Boulder and Stillwater Rivers originate in the Beartooth Mountains, which contain the only known minable deposit of platinum group minerals in the western hemisphere (used primarily for catalytic converters). A huge mining operation there is the largest employer in the state. Because of Northern Plains, there exists a Good Neighbor Agreement between us and the mine, by which the two watersheds are protected much more stringently than federal, state, or local laws and ordinances could have accomplished. We recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Agreement and continue to work through its complexities despite changes in ownership and board membership during the period.
• Our dedication to civic engagement and public education is demonstrated constantly. During Montana legislative sessions, Northern Plains actively recruits more than 500 members to participate in the legislative process, including traveling to the capital as citizen lobbyists. Win, lose, or draw on legislation, this work has built a corps of citizens who understand and are capable of taking an active part in the legislative process.