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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Yellowstone Area Mining Ban Excluded From Congressional Omnibus Bill

Emigrant Peak north of Yellowstone, near the area of a proposed Lucky Minerals mine exploration.
Flickr user Sean Wolf (CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0)
Emigrant Peak north of Yellowstone, near the area of a proposed Lucky Minerals mine exploration.

A proposal in Congress to ban mining near Yellowstone National Park appears to have been dealt a significant setback. 

The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act aims to shelter 30,000 acres of public lands north of Yellowstone from development of two gold mines. Montana's entire congressional delegation says the measure is not included in the omnibus spending package Congress is suppose to vote on this week. 

And just like that, Wednesday's blame game started in earnest. 

Here's Montana's senior senator, Democrat Jon Tester

"I think that if Senator Daines would have been on this bill, we would have gotten it done, I'll just be honest with you. But with one of the members of the delegation being out, we were not able to get it out ... this is actually a no-brainer. I can't believe we don't have everybody on board fighting like hell for it. If we would have, we would've gotten it done," Tester said. 

Republican Senator Steve Daines had a different viewpoint.

"Yeah, I vigorously disagree with that assertion. That's flat-out wrong," Daines said. 

Daines says he supports the Yellowstone-area mining ban. 

But he says that proposal was part of a compromise piece of legislation that was eventually shot down by congressional leadership. 

"I said let's get that Yellowstone Gateway withdrawal through. We pushed (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell, but importantly it went to (Senate Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer and they said no on it," Daines said. 

Scott Christensen is Conservation Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition in Bozeman. 

"It's hard to know what the ins and outs of the discussions were with leadership in the House and Senate about what makes it in and what doesn't. In an omnibus package it's the definition of sausage making. There's all sorts of different deals being cut," Christensen said. 

Christensen says the coalition is deeply disappointed by the lack of congressional action on the Gateway Protection Act, despite Jon Tester's bill in the Senate and Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte's companion bill in the U.S. House. 

More pointedly, he questions Senator Daines' commitment to the proposal. He notes that on the one hand, Daines says he supports it. 

"But more recently he's been talking about a deal, basically, to strip protections from other lands in Montana in exchange for supporting this legislation. We, obviously, can't get on board with that and feel the two issues are completely disconnected from each other," Christensen said. 

One thing everyone here agrees on? The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act one day will make it through Congress. 

"It's gonna happen," Tester said. "We're going to get this damn thing done. I guarantee it." 

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