After Senate vote, Daines pushes for YGPA in House

Johnathan Hettinger —
Thursday, February 14, 2019

Enterprise photo by Nate Howard

Montana Sen. Steve Daines, left, and Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cameron Sholly meet with the media outside the Gardiner School on Oct. 19.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines remembers driving his parents’ “Griswold” station wagon to Chico Hot Springs for his Bozeman High School homecoming dance. He remembers Lutheran Church potlucks in Paradise Valley. He can’t count the number of times he’s hit the Yellowstone River with a fly rod in hand.

“I have a long personal history with that part of the state,” Daines told The Enterprise on Thursday morning.

And that’s why he feels the area needs permanent protection from gold mining. That protection — the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act — was a part of a public lands package that passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 92-8.

Daines said he is continuing to fight to make sure the package, which also includes funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, passes the U.S. House of Representatives and becomes law.

“We’re working very hard as we speak to make sure the House gets this through,” Daines said.

Daines said he knew getting the act passed would require bringing people together, and now that it’s approaching the finish line, it’s no different.

Daines and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) sent a letter Wednesday to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Daines said he and Heinrich whipped votes on the public lands package together, including lots of texting back and forth late into the night.

“It’s a great example of bipartisanship,” Daines said. “Like I said on Tuesday, it took public lands to bring a divided government together.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund helped pay for Livingston’s Sacajawea Park, splash park and the soccer fields on the north side of town. The program also helped pay for the acquisition of the Emigrant Fishing Access.

The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, introduced by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in April 2017, permanently bans mining on 30,000 acres of the Custer Gallatin National Forest where two companies — Lucky Minerals and Crevice Mountain Mining — have proposed gold mines. Daines signed on as a sponsor in December.

Daines said his history and the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, a group of more than 400 businesses opposed to the mine, made supporting the act an easy choice.

“From the beginning I told (the coalition), it was never going to pass as a standalone, but we had to put a package together. I wanted to focus on outcomes and results,” Daines said.

Daines said even though he wasn’t a sponsor until recently, he helped usher the act through his Senate committee. He said he’s learned in Congress that sometimes the best way to help an act is to support it without cosponsoring and work with both parties to get a package together.

“Once we had this pretty well locked down, I was now ready to be a cosponsor,” Daines said.

When asked if this is a blueprint for future success, Daines said he places a lot of value on community input, especially when they’re united.

“This brought people together versus separating them,” Daines said. “It united. Didn’t divide. That’s what I look for in policy.”

Daines said he told the coalition to be patient and work through the process, it would eventually get there.

“At times, the coalition got a little impatient, and I understood that,” Daines said. “We had some setbacks along the way, but now we just have to get it across the floor of the House, and we’ll celebrate down at Chico soon.”