Preserving Our Heritage while Building Our Future
We've got something truly special in Montana. We are blessed with majestic lakes and forests and glaciers, with spectacular mountains and prairies and rushing blue ribbon trout streams. Hiking, hunting, and fishing are an integral part of our heritage. This connection to the outdoors is part of what makes Montana such a great place to live, work, and raise a family.
I am committed to protecting Montana's outdoor heritage, so that our children can enjoy it every bit as much as you and I have. That is why I am fighting every day to stop coal mining in the Canadian Flathead, move America towards energy independence, and address climate change.
Protecting Montana's outdoor heritage makes good business sense, too. Our water, forest and energy resources create good-paying jobs and sustain Main Streets all across Montana. From the wind farm at Judith Gap to the restoration of the Clark Fork River at Milltown Dam, protecting Montana's outdoor heritage keeps Montanans on the job.
Accessing Public Land
Montana is an outdoors state. We hunt. We fish. We take our kids hiking and camping. Our public lands are a part of our recreational heritage as Montanans. We should be looking for ways to improve access to hunting and fishing lands, not putting more padlocks on more gates. That is why I am proud to have had a leading role in the Montana Legacy Project, which was announced in 2008.
The Montana Legacy Project will permanently preserve 320,000 acres of formerly private lands in and around Potomac and Lolo, the Swan Valley, and the Fish Creek Valley for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities for all Montanans. The Montana Legacy Project will also ensure that our forests remain working forests, providing sustainable timber harvests that will create jobs and support the local economies that have relied on timber for generations.
I'll continue to fight to ensure access to public land, to protect the habitat of Montana's abundant game, and to protect the rights of Montana gun owners. Public lands provide valuable resources, jobs, and recreational opportunities, and must be managed in ways that ensure not only accessibility, but responsibility as well. Rest assured that I will never put our outdoor heritage and environmental legacy up for sale to the highest bidder.
Secure Rural Schools
The Secure Rural Schools program provides critically important funding for school and road improvements that keep schools open and teachers in the classroom in many Montana communities. The program was authorized in 1999 and expired in 2006. Since then, Congress had only extended the program on a rolling, yearly basis until I made sure a longer extension was put in place in October 2008.
The new funding distribution formula is more equitable for Montana, and will provide approximately $111 million over the next four years - that's $98 million more than the old formula provided. Also included in the reauthorization is an increase in the existing funding for the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program.
Passing this four-year authorization is a major victory for Montana's schools.
Protecting the Flathead
The North Fork of the Flathead River, a federally designated Wild and Scenic River, rises in Canada, marks the western boundary of Glacier National Park, and finally flows into Flathead Lake. Glacier National Park, the Flathead River system, and the clean, clear waters of Flathead Lake are critical to Montana's economy. Proposals to mine coal and develop coal bed methane in the British Columbian portion of the Flathead would put some of Montana's most valuable treasures at risk.
In February of 2008, the CEO of BP America, Bob Malone, informed me that BP was taking its proposal to develop coal bed methane in the Flathead off the table. I met with Mr. Malone several times and let him know that I would absolutely not accept coal bed methane development in the North Fork of the Flathead- the effort was abandoned. Stopping the BP proposal was a major victory, but many more challenges remain.
I have been working hard to stop a proposed coal mine in the Canadian portion of the North Fork. This mountaintop removal coal mine would release selenium and other toxic contaminants into the Flathead River, forever damaging one of the best trout fisheries in North America. I have worked with officials on both sides of the border, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson, to bring strong federal scrutiny to this project. I am please that, in the spring of 2007, Ambassador Wilson announced that the Canadian Government would be conducting a federal level environmental assessment of the proposed mine at my request.
I will not stop fighting until the environment and economic benefits of the Flathead are secure.
Sage Creek Coal Ltd. (Rio Tinto) proposes to mine coal in Cabin Creek drainage in the North Fork
Exploration for coal begins in the Canadian North Fork – 8 miles from the U.S. border
Sen. Baucus introduces Flathead Wild and Scenic Rivers Bill
Cleaning Up Libby
The cleanup of Libby is of very important to me, and I am working hard to ensure that folks in Libby get all the assistance they deserve. My top priorities in Libby are making sure the public health emergency response is carried out, that the cleanup gets done right, and that every resident in Libby gets access to affordable healthcare.
In my efforts on behalf of Libby I have held listening sessions and hearings, supported the opening of the CARD clinic for medical screenings, and collaborated with my Senate colleagues on health care and liability reforms to help victims of asbestos exposure. Libby has come a long way, but more work remains.
I am fully committed to seeing the cleanup in Libby through to the finish. That is why, in the spring of 2007, I pushed the EPA to complete the toxicity studies necessary to determine how clean homes must be in order to be truly safe. I also pressed the EPA to declare a Public Health Emergency. The declaration was made in June 2009, and ensures that the EPA has clear authority to remove all the asbestos from the walls and attics of homes in Libby. It also allows the Federal Government to provide better healthcare for the people of Libby.
This cleanup is a job the EPA must do right. I am fighting to make sure Libby gets the clean bill of health it deserves.
As Montanans, we take the call to be good stewards of the environment very seriously. This means that we must address the issue of climate change. We cannot be good stewards if we ignore the fact that climate change brings longer droughts and more severe wildfire seasons. I believe dealing with climate change is a moral imperative. It's also a key element of my plans to develop Montana's economy and bring good, high-paying jobs to Montana.
To address climate change we need to find a solution that will do three things: provide incentives for clean coal technology, spur development of renewable energy, and allow Montana farmers and ranchers to be a part of the solution by developing offset projects. In the Senate, I'm helping draft legislation to fulfill these requirements.
Montana can be a leader in addressing climate change and developing the clean energy sources of the future. Our farmers can practice no-till farming to generate carbon credits, thus providing an additional source of revenue for our hardworking farmers. We can use our abundant coal in power plans that capture and sequester their carbon emissions. We can also produce clean energy by harnessing wind power and biodiesel fuels. There are many exciting opportunities out there for Montana industries as our nation leads the fight against climate change.
Forest Products - Keeping Montanans at Work in the Woods
Small timber mills are vital to rural, timber-dependent communities across Montana. From Kalispell to Deer Lodge to Livingston, the forest products industry is creating good-paying jobs. Montanans are proud of the role the timber industry has played in the state. I am working with Montana's timber industry to ensure sustainable harvests, prevent catastrophic wildfires, and open foreign markets to Montana's forest products. Working together, we can ensure that the forest products industry can continue its legacy of responsible stewardship well into the future.
Preventing Forest Fire
Good forest management practices play a critical role in preventing catastrophic wildfires. Through hazardous fuels reduction and thinning in the wildland urban interface, Montana's forest product industry helps to keep our homes and families safe.
I am working to reform the way the Forest Service funds fire suppression so that they can stop catastrophic wildfires without borrowing funds from other accounts, such as hazardous fuels reduction. Faced with the escalating cost of fighting wildfires, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) frequently borrow emergency fire suppression funds from the accounts of other important programs. This cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul undermines both agencies and leaves priority programs, such as timber programs, unfunded.
That is why I introduced the Stable Fire Funding Act. This bill would authorize $600 million in seed money to create a trust fund for the Forest Service, as well as $200 million in seed money for a BLM trust fund. That seed money would generate enough interest to cover 80 percent of firefighting costs that exceed the agencies' budgets provided by Congress for that given year.
Opening International Markets
Another key to keeping Montana's timber industry robust is opening international markets and creating fair terms of trade. Montana's lumber industry plays by the rules, and Montanans deserve to know that our trading partners will do the same. I have been working hard to ensure that our trade agreements, including the Softwood Lumber Agreement with Canada, are enforced. I have been working to guarantee that the American market is free of unfairly subsidized or dumped softwood lumber, and I pushed the government to take the legal action necessary to ensure that Montana's lumber industry can face foreign competition on a level playing field.
Looking Out for Timber Communities
Montana's small, independent, and family-owned mills provide the economic backbone of Montana's rural timber-dependent communities. I will continue to work hard with Montana's timber industry to keep Montanans at work in the woods.