Big Sky Connection

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Eric Tegethoff

February 25, 2017

BILLINGS, Mont. -- The Montana congressional delegation's grades were high and low without much in between on a new national environmental scorecard unveiled by Montana Conservation Voters Friday.

The scoring was based on legislative votes on environment, energy and public health issues in 2016. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester earned an 88 percent, Republican Sen. Steve Daines, earned a 12 percent, and Rep. Ryan Zinke, also a republican, earned a 5 percent.

Juanita Vero, chair at Montana Conservation Voters, said there's a difference in priorities among the state's delegation.

"It seems that Sen. Tester knows our economy depends on protecting our clean air and water and public lands," Vero said. "And I'm sure Sen. Daines and Rep. Zinke understand that too, but their votes largely supported corporate polluters. "

Vero said her organization appreciates the unified face all three members showed in supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund last year.

Zinke is expected to be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior after the Congressional recess, and although he scored low on the scorecard, Vero said she is cautiously optimistic about the representative in his new role.

"With his support of Land and Water Conservation Fund and public opposition to the transfer and selloff of federal public lands, I hope he'll serve as an advocate for protection of America's public lands as the next Secretary of the Interior," she said.

The scorecard was published by the League of Conservation Voters and set a new record for votes scored.


 

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Eric Tegethoff

February 23, 2017

HELENA, Mont. - A coalition of groups across the West is concerned Congress could overturn the Bureau of Land Management's new land-use planning policies before Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana is confirmed as Interior Secretary.

Last week, the U.S. House voted to repeal the Obama-era rule known as "Planning 2.0," under the Congressional Review Act or CRA. That leaves the rule's fate in the hands of the Senate.

Rick Potts, the former manager of the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Montana, says the new process includes public input at the beginning so that plans aren't mired in litigation for years.

"Planning 2.0 really addresses that head on and helps get all the issues identified and out on the table early on in a planning process, so that they can be addressed and resolved," he explained.

If the planning rules are repealed under the CRA, it could tie the hands of the next Interior Secretary. The CRA repeal prohibits the agency from issuing any rules that are "substantially the same" as previous rules without approval from Congress.

The goal of Planning 2.0 is to give the public and the many stakeholders, who advocate for a variety of uses of BLM land, a greater and more collaborative role in the BLM planning process. Potts points out that BLM has been working for the past decade on this new approach.

"I can only believe Congress has gotten some bad information about what Planning 2.0 does and doesn't do, because it actually decreases the red tape and makes the planning process more efficient, more effective," he said. "It gives state and local governments more of a say."

Earlier this month, the Western Governors' Association, which includes Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, sent a letter to Congress expressing concern over Planning 2.0, and asking the agency to revise it in collaboration with states. However, the rules and any potential revisions would be banished for good if Planning 2.0 is taken away under the CRA.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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