Issue Position: Outdoors
We've got something special in Montana. Montana is blessed with spectacular mountains and prairies and blue ribbon trout streams. Hunting and fishing are part of our heritage. Public lands are a part of our way of life.
In some cases, these valuable public lands are threatened. I look forward to facing those threats such as drilling on the Rocky Mountain Front, coal mining in the Flathead, low stream flows on the Bighorn River, and ongoing Asbestos contamination in Libby. I will work hard to protect Montana's interests.
Our water, forest, and grassland resources sustain Main Streets all across Montana. A legacy of responsible public land management will support family-owned businesses and farmers and ranchers for generations to come.
Permanent Protection for the Rocky Mountain Front: As the top Democrat the Senate Finance Committee when the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 became law, I included language providing permanent protections to the Rocky Mountain Front. The provision makes permanent the 1997 moratorium on new oil and gas leases on the Front.
This victory is a culmination of years of hard work by many folks who want to protect this pristine area for future generations. The Front is a crown jewel for Montana and the nation, and now it will be protected forever. Our children's children will be able to hunt, fish, and camp there. I am extremely proud to have worked to secure that future.
Boosting Public Land Access: Montana is an outdoors state. We hunt. We fish. We take our kids hiking and camping. Our public lands are part of our recreational heritage as Montanans. We should be looking for ways to boost access to hunting and fishing lands, not putting more padlocks on more gates. That is why I have opposed public land sales in the last two Presidential budgets.
I'll continue to fight to ensure Montanans have access to our public lands and rivers, will protect the habitat of Montana's abundant game, and will uphold the rights of Montana gun owners. Public lands provide valuable resources, jobs, and recreation opportunities, and need to be managed in ways that protect a wide variety of responsible uses. Rest assured that I will always oppose putting that outdoor heritage and environmental legacy on sale for the highest bidder.
Reauthorize Secure Rural Schools: The Secure Rural Schools program, which expired last year, is a critically important program for Montana. It provides funding for schools and road improvements that keep schools open and teachers employed in many Montana Communities. I am proud to have cosponsored a new measure in the recent Supplemental Appropriations bill that authorized a one-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools program.
Other proposals to fund the Secure Rural Schools program would sell off public lands to do so. I think that is an unacceptable solution, and I strongly oppose it. Public lands are important to our outdoor heritage and conservation legacy in Montana. We hunt, fish, and camp with our kids. The public lands we enjoy should be well managed and passed on for future generations to enjoy, and we can find a better way to keep the Secure Rural Schools program running than sell off those lands.
Forest Products: Small timber mills form the backbone of many Montana towns. Some areas in our National Forests can and should be managed for a sustainable supply of logs. Environmentally sustainable timber harvests create jobs, reduce the risk of wildfire, and restore forest health. Thinning in the wildland-urban interface reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire and protects our homes and communities. Our mills depend on a reliable supply of fiber, and I will continue to support policies that encourage communities to work together to manage our National Forests in a sustainable manner.
Protecting the Flathead Basin: I have been working hard to bring scrutiny to a proposed coal mine in British Columbia that threatens the Flathead River in Montana. I have worked with officials on both sides of the border, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Canadian Ambassador Joseph Wilson, to bring strong Federal Review to this proposal by both the Canadian and American Governments.
So far this year, I have written to and spoken with Secretary Rice, requesting the solicitation of a hearing by the International Joint Commission (IJC) on the mining proposal. Secretary Rice has committed to working with Montana officials to stop this mine in its tracks.
The North Fork of the Flathead River, a federal Wild and Scenic River, rises in Canada and serves as the western boundary of Glacier National Park when it enters Montana before feeding into Flathead Lake. Glacier National Park, the Flathead River system and the clean, clear waters of Flathead Lake are critical to Montana's economy. This mining proposal would put some of Montana's most valuable treasures at risk. I am looking forward to bringing international scrutiny to the mining plans and protecting northwest Montana's pristine bodies of water.
Protecting the Bighorn River: We need to find common sense solutions to the problems facing the Bighorn River. On January 16, 2007, I introduced a Bighorn River protection bill. This bill would set a minimum flow level for release from Yellowtail Dam at 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs), require the Bureau of Reclamation to coordinate management of all reservoirs on the Bighorn, and make maintenance of a healthy trout fishery a priority for river managers.
The Bighorn River is one of the world's best trout streams and is a lifeline for the southeast Montana economy. On April 17, 2007, I wrote a letter to Robert Johnson, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, urging him to reconsider a Bureau decision, announced on April 9, which set the spring flows on the Bighorn at 1,500 cfs. These low flow levels would be devastating to the trout fishery. I do not accept that decision as final, and am looking forward to revisiting the flow schedule as currently established and protecting Montana's economic and recreational interests.
I was pleased to see that the Bureau of Reclamation increased flows to 1750 cfs. This was an important first step in protecting this blue ribbon fishery. Rest assured, I'll keep fighting until Montana gets its fair share of water in the Bighorn.
Cleaning Up Libby: The issues surrounding the contamination and cleanup of Libby are personally important to me, and I look forward to working hard in the 110th Congress to ensure that those folks get all the assistance they deserve. I have visited Libby and talked to residents about the ongoing tragedy. The cleanup effort that is underway must safeguard future generations in this town from the threats of mesothelioma and asbestosis.
In my efforts on behalf of Libby, I have held listening sessions and hearings, supported the opening of the CARD clinic for screenings, and have collaborated with my Senate colleagues on health care and liability reforms to help victims of asbestos exposure. I am glad to use my position as a senior member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works to bring attention to this important matter.
An April 5, 2007 field hearing in Libby for the Committee on Environment and Public Works brought promises from a top official with the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the Libby cleanup. At that hearing, Susan Parker Bodine, the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response at the EPA agreed to comprehensive toxicity studies as a part of the cleanup. I requested that they provide me with copies of those results, so that I can better monitor the effectiveness of remediation activities.
By keeping a close eye on the toxicity study results, and by speaking out about the problems facing Libby residents and the tragedies they have already endured, I will continue to put my experience in the Senate to use. This cleanup is a job we need to do right. I am looking forward to playing a role in securing long-term solutions for Libby that will care for current residents and ensure the continued health of the community.
Climate Change: Climate change presents Montana with risks of continued drought and severe wildfire seasons. Rivers, lakes, and streams that we rely on for drinking water, irrigation, and outdoor recreation will dry up. Glacier National Park, a critical draw for Montana's tourism economy, could lose its last glacier as soon as 2030.
The 110th Congress will consider a number of proposed bills on climate change. To be right for Montana, a bill should address four principles. Most importantly, it should recognize climate change as a real threat, and that America has a moral obligation to take the lead on the issue. Second, proposed changes must pass a common sense test and make a difference without crippling our economy. Third, there should be incentives for developing and deploying clean coal technology. Finally, agriculture interests must be able to generate credits by offsetting CO2 emissions.
Montana can be a leader in addressing climate change, and developing the clean energy sources of the future. Our farmers can practice no-till agriculture and "bank" carbon credits. We can use our abundant coal in clean energy generations. We can produce other clean energy in the form of wind power and biodiesel. There are many exciting opportunities for Montana industries as our nation leads the fight against climate change.
Current and Upcoming Environmental Issues in Congress
The Senate failed again to pass comprehensive energy legislation in the 109th Congress. Right now, it's too soon to tell how the Senate leadership will approach an energy bill in the 110th Congress, but some action is likely. I'll do everything I can to make sure the Artic National Wildlife Refuge and the Rocky Mountain Front are protected from oil and gas development in any bill that moves through the Senate.
I'll work for a balanced energy package. I believe it's high time we supported the development of renewable and alternative sources of energy, like wind, solar, biomass and fuel cells. I also believe we must continue to promote more efficient use of our traditional energy resources, such as oil, gas and coal. This is good for the environment, good for our economy, and it will promote greater energy security for our nation.