Language on climate change, ESG removed from company website of Montana GOP Senate candidate

Tim Sheehy is a top recruit in the marquee race against Democrat Jon Tester.

July 21, 2023, 9:10 AM

The website of the company run by Montana GOP Senate candidate Tim Sheehy removed references to climate change and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) earlier this year as its owner was being courted in the spring to challenge Democratic incumbent Jon Tester.

Sheehy, who jumped into the Senate race in June after an aggressive public and private recruitment effort by Washington Republicans, runs Bridger Aerospace, an aerial firefighting company.

A former combat veteran who is an independently wealthy job creator without a legislative record to attack, Sheehy has GOP strategists hopeful they can finally wrest the Senate seat away from Tester after his three-term tenure.

Since the recruitment effort got underway, Sheehy has largely backed the party line on several economic and social issues as the race ramps up -- and as he gears up for a possible primary race against hard-line Rep. Matt Rosendale.

However, according to screenshots first provided by a source opposed to Sheehy and then verified by ABC News, his company removed language from its website touting its efforts to combat climate change and support for ESG, both major fronts in the GOP grassroots' culture wars. ESG is a type of investing that takes into account non-financial information about a company, such as its climate impact and staff diversity.

As recently as January, Bridger Aerospace's website homepage introduced its company as "fighting on the front lines of climate change" and said its mission included using "sustainable and environmentally safe firefighting methods."

By March, the website introduced Bridger as "aerial firefighters" and said its mission was to "to save lives and property threatened by wildfires" and that it is "the nation's most diverse and vertically integrated aerial firefighting task force, with specialized aircraft, a world-class team, and life-saving technology."

No mention of the climate or climate change appeared on the company's homepage or anywhere else on its website.

The deletions from Sheehy's website harken back to an episode from Arizona Republican Blake Masters' failed 2022 Senate bid, when Masters scrubbed language on abortion and other issues from his campaign website.

Bridger also took down an investor presentation that was given in December that included the company's commitment to ESG and fighting climate change.

Included in the presentation were boasts of efforts to "directly attack CO2 emissions to combat climate change" and that addressing "major sources of CO2 emissions" were part of its sustainability practices.

Bridger went on to explain it was planning on going public to "enhance public support and awareness of Bridger, particularly in a market without a significant number of public-ready, fundamentally-driven ESG businesses."

The presentation also noted Bridger's ties to Kestrel, which says on its website it is "a Women's Business Enterprise dedicated to standardizing how ESG information is consumed by the fixed income market" and that it "offers ESG impact data and services that provide transparency at the bond/series level to support sustainable finance.

PHOTO: Montana Republican candidate for Senate Tim Sheehy.
Montana Republican candidate for Senate Tim Sheehy.
Montana Republican candidate for Senate Tim Sheehy.

Kestrel said in a press release in August that it had "provided a Second Party Opinion for Bridger Aerospace's Sustainability Bonds with proceeds that will be used to purchase two SuperScooper planes for firefighting, among other activities."

"Wildfires pose a significant threat to human health and wildlife, in addition to releasing large amounts of CO2 from severe, stand-replacing fires. By increasing the size of its fleet and improving operational facilities, Bridger will be better equipped to reduce the negative environmental impacts of large wildfires across the US," the company said.

The $160 million deal with Bridger and ESG bonds was described at the time as "one of the largest taxable non-rated municipal ESG bonds in the nation."

The language from Bridger's website -- subsequently removed -- jibes with past comments Sheehy made about climate change and ESG before launching his Senate campaign.

In March, Sheehy pushed back on critics of businesses that highlight efforts to fight climate change and utilize ESG, telling a podcast, "A lot of companies are trading on their green bona fides, they're saying, 'Hey we're green, we're climate-neutral, we're climate this,' and the reality is very few of them actually are. They're either peddling a technology that might be green in a decade or they're selling vaporware. And I think we're a company that is actually out there fighting climate change-related issues."

In August 2022, he emphasized Bridger's "fundamental business principles of environmental and social sustainability" and ability "to effectively combat today's changing climate."

In 2021, he called for more international cooperation in fighting climate change after the U.S. rejoined the Paris climate accords and praised California Gov. Gavin Newsom's handling of climate change.

And last September, in response to an SEC inquiry, Bridger said it planned to "produce an ESG report on a voluntary basis in future years as it further develops its ESG reporting program."

Since launching his campaign, though, Sheehy has appeared more in sync with a Republican base that is skeptical of climate science and vociferously opposed to ESG, with his campaign website saying he'd support the "repeal the new EPA job-killing energy regulations" and that the country is "blessed" with "abundant coal" and other resources.

"Energy security is national security. We are blessed with amazing energy resources in this country. And right now, the cleanest form of energy known to man is American fossil fuels," he said on Fox News earlier this month.

Sheehy's campaign suggested to ABC News that the website changes were standard updates while reinforcing Sheehy's conservative bona fides on climate change.

"Bridger Aerospace is a growing company that recently went public and is constantly evolving. It's not uncommon for businesses to update their websites from time to time," a Sheehy spokesperson told ABC News of the website edits.

Of Sheehy's past comments on climate change, the spokesperson said, "Protecting communities and lives from the threat of dangerous wildfires is the mission and it's what Tim will be doing while he serves on aerial firefighting duty next week. The fact is, radical environmentalists have locked up our forests, killed Montana timber jobs and are making the wildfire crisis worse. When Tim is elected to the Senate, he will make responsible management of our forests a top priority."

Still, Bridger's now-deleted language and Sheehy's past comments set him apart from other Republicans like Rosendale, his potential primary opponent, and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the chair of Senate Republicans' campaign arm, who helped spearhead the recruitment effort to get Sheehy in the race.

PHOTO: Rep. Matt Rosendale speaks at a press conference on the debt limit and the Freedom Caucus's plan for spending reduction, Mar. 28, 2023 in Washington.
Rep. Matt Rosendale speaks at a press conference on the debt limit and the Freedom Caucus's plan for spending reduction, Mar. 28, 2023 in Washington.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Daines has accused government agencies of improperly focusing on climate change and proposed legislation last year to ban ESG standards for retirement plans.

Rosendale, who is mulling his own challenge to Tester, has lambasted the movement away from fossil fuels and voices similar opposition to ESG.

Veteran Montana Democratic strategist and former Tester aide Matt McKenna suggested Sheehy might not be ready for the bright lights of a marquee Senate race -- while recognizing the uphill climb Tester faces in winning reelection, including against Sheehy, in a state as red as Montana.

"Let me make sure I've got this straight: Tim Sheehy believes in climate science when he's trying to win government contracts and thinks it's fake when he's trying to run to the right of Matt Rosendale. What'd I miss?" asked McKenna.

"Welcome to the big time," he said. "Rule one is the internet is a nasty beast -- and even if you think something's gone, it probably isn't."

ABC News' Max Zahn contributed to this report.