Tester reintroducing Gateway Protection Act in Congress

Johnathan Hettinger —
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
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Senator Jon Tester and his wife, Sharla, walk along Park Street on Nov. 2 in Livingston on their way to a political rally. (Enterprise file photo by Nate Howard)

Sen. Jon Tester said he will reintroduce the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act in the U.S. Senate Wednesday.

The act, which would permanently ban mining on 30,000 acres of Custer Gallatin National Forest, was originally introduced in April 2017, but had to be re-introduced in the new session of Congress, after failing to get passed last year.

“We’ll rattle the chains and hopefully get this done,” Tester, a Democrat, told The Enterprise in a Tuesday phone interview. 

Republican Sen. Steve Daines also signed on as a sponsor of the bill, something he did not do prior to the November election.

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 Republican senators — Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Texas — halted the public lands package, which also included funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then pledged that the public lands package would be one of the first bills brought up in the Congress, and Tester said he is introducing the bill to make sure McConnell holds true to that promise.

“We’re gonna hold him to that,” Tester said. “And if in fact, something goes awry with that lands package, we’ll have it introduced already.”

Tester said he expects the public lands package to look like it did in December and pass with more than 90 votes.

Tester said the permanent withdrawal is necessary to help Paradise Valley residents and businesses, who benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars a year in outdoor recreation spending.

“That kind of certainty is critical for hundreds of businesses and residents of Paradise Valley,” Tester said.

In October, then-Secretary 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. 

Local groups have maintained that getting the bill passed is a priority. 

“Thank you to Sen. Tester for continuing to fight for our jobs and our local community,” said Karrie Kahle, community director for the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition. “We have never been in a stronger position to pass this legislation thanks to a fully united Montana delegation.”

Tester said he anticipates the entire Montana delegation to support the bill. During the last session of Congress, Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte also sponsored the bill, and hearings were held on the bill in both chambers.

“It’s due time to get this passed,” Tester said.