Entire delegation sponsors protection bill

Johnathan Hettinger --
Thursday, January 10, 2019

All three members of Montana’s Congressional delegation have signed on to sponsor the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, which has now been introduced in both houses.

“We’re all on the same page, both senators and myself,” Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte told The Enterprise on Thursday morning, just after introducing the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. “We’ve heard the voice of folks in Paradise Valley loud and clear.”

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Sen. Steve Daines introduced the bill — which would ban mining on 30,000 acres of Custer Gallatin National Forest where two proposed gold mines are — in the Senate on Wednesday. Tester originally introduced the bill in April 2017 and Daines signed on as a cosponsor in December.

Now, the delegation has to figure out how it moves forward.

“We will look at any vehicles necessary to make it law,” Gianforte said. “Whatever tool we can. It could be stand-alone or a larger package, but the first step was to get it introduced.”

Daines also cosponsored a public lands package that includes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act. The act had been included as a part of a public lands package that faltered at the 11th hour of Congress’ last session in December after two senators — Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Texas — halted the package, which also included funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then pledged that the public lands package would be one of the first bills brought up in the Congress. Both Daines and Tester claimed credit for securing that commitment.

“This would be one of the biggest accomplishments for conservation and protection of our public lands in Montana and across our country in decades,” Daines said in a press release announcing he co-sponsored the bill. “Last month I secured commitment for a vote on this package, and I’m pleased to see it is closer to becoming a reality. I look forward to getting these bills signed into law to help protect our public lands, expand sportsman access, and wildlife habitat.”

Tester told The Enterprise on Tuesday he expects that bill to pass with more than 90 votes, but if not, the bill is ready to go on its own.

In October, then-Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced an administrative withdrawal of mining rights in the area, which includes two proposed gold mines: Lucky Minerals at Emigrant Gulch and Crevice Mountain Mining Company near Jardine, on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park.

Lucky Minerals has not responded to requests for comment.

Colin Davis, owner of Chico Hot Springs and founding member of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, said he has personally heard from the entire delegation about the bill, and he’s just waiting for the news it’s going to pass.

But the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., between the government shutdown and uncertainty surrounding other bills, has made it difficult to predict what’s going to happen, he said.

“It’s ready to go, and now there’s all this dysfunction in Congress,” Davis said. “It’s frustrating because it could pass in a couple days or not for awhile just because of the tit for tat.”

Davis said he would really like to go to Washington, D.C., for the floor vote but isn’t confident it will happen anytime soon.

“If I knew it was going to happen, I would get on a plane for sure,” Davis said. “But now we’re waiting. It’s not through any fault of our delegation. They’ve really stepped on the gas pedal the past couple months.”

Gianforte said he wasn’t discouraged by the bill not becoming law during the last session.

“Sometimes, these bills take a couple runs,” the Congressman said. “We laid a lot of groundwork last year, and now we’re at a benefit because of that groundwork.”