A representative for Montana grass-roots organizations attended Real Solutions for Real People, a presidential forum hosted last month in Reno, Nev., featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. The forum focused on issues important to the Mountain West region, including public land use and water rights.

Bozeman resident Kate French attended the forum on behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Council (WORC) and the Northern Plains Resource Council, organizations with a combined membership of over 15,000 Montanans dedicated to promoting clean air, clean water, family farms and the Montana quality of life.

The forum was nonpartisan and allowed for guests to generate ideas and questions revolving around personal experience with issues affecting the west, offering candidates an opportunity to present their proposals for addressing these concerns.

“Folks in the west don’t typically have a chance to voice our concerns directly to the presidential candidates since we come later in the primary season, but all these issues are pertinent to the west,” French says.

What was originally intended to be a modest event turned out to host more than 400 participants and offered a live stream of the event.

“If there was a theme other than just issues in the west, it was really economic justice. NPRC and WORC were there to talk about how clean energy can be a part of that solution, especially in rural places traditionally thought to be very dependent on fossil fuel extraction,” says French.

Following a series of workshops, French did a panel presentation on clean energy and how it can provide for a more diverse, more localized economy in Montana.

“We believe agriculture is a part of that solution too and I wanted to talk about it in tandem with clean energy because they are important parts in a localized community,” says French.

Ears in the auditorium perked when the forum turned its focus to clean energy in rural places.

“We hear a lot about clean energy in an urban setting and about centralized massive solar panels, but we don’t hear a lot about how smaller wind farms or solar farms can work and what sort of solutions are good for folks out in the west,” French says.

French asked the candidates how their administration might ensure that widespread prosperity in rural communities as the nation transitions to clean energy, especially those communities affected by the decline of coal. According to French, the candidates expressed concern for the kind of transition the west is going through with regard to growing populations, water scarcity and changes in energy economy, but it did not appear that either were intimately familiar the complex issues in the west.

The event was hosted by Nevada organizations Center for Community Change (CCC), Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada (ACTIONN) the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), the University of Nevada, Reno student group FUSED and KXNV 89.1.