Guest opinion: Interior steps up for responsible development

2014-04-24T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Interior steps up for responsible developmentBy BRIDGET SMITH The Billings Gazette
April 24, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Taking care of the land is a core value here in Montana. The beautiful open prairie in Wolf Point, where I live, embodies what it means to live in Big Sky country, and there is no place I would rather be.

That is part of what inspired me to run for state representative and what drives me to work on behalf of my constituents.

One issue I hear about frequently is energy development and the impacts from it, positive and negative. The boost in jobs, economic opportunity and revenue have undeniably had positive impacts on many parts of eastern Montana. But there are negative impacts too.

Affects on infrastructure

When you head east, you will see a large number of oil trucks on the highway. The impact to the local infrastructure is causing concern for many county commissioners in my area. Increasing numbers of deep potholes damage vehicles in a variety of ways, and these deteriorating roads cause extra costs to Montanans and other travelers. These conditions also contribute to motor vehicle accidents exacerbated by slow-moving farm equipment frustrating urgent truckers.

Stress on sewer systems and sewer lagoons cause by the influx of transient workers has also added to the financial burden of local communities. Increases in crime due to the rising number of transient workers caused a need to expand law enforcement capacity to address drug violations, violent crimes, and prostitution. We are not getting the funds to address these public safety needs.

As energy development inevitably continues across our region, it is essential that common sense policies are adopted and updated to ensure that development happens in a responsible way. State, tribal and federal officials have to work together to find solutions that protect our small towns. The land, air and water we depend on should not be compromised.

That is why, two weeks ago, I went to Washington, D.C., to talk to our elected leaders and key members of the administration about the importance of ensuring that energy development is done responsibly. During a meeting at the Department of Interior, which oversees all oil and gas development on public lands, we asked that the department minimize impacts on public lands, recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat that result from oil and gas development. Protecting these values is key to protecting our way of life in Montana.

Care for public lands

I am extremely pleased that Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell ordered a report on mitigating impacts from development on public lands. This report, released this month, outlines actions the department will take to ensure that when development occurs on public lands, efforts are taken to minimize the impacts.

This is a step in the right direction.

I look forward to Jewell carrying out her commitment to landscape-level planning for development. When we are using the best available technologies to extract record levels of oil and gas from beneath our feet, we ought to also be using the best available science and technology to avoid the most serious of impacts to our land and wildlife. By looking at energy development on a larger scale, it is possible to make smarter decisions that are less disruptive for wildlife and our communities while still creating jobs and benefiting our economy.

Bridget Smith, D-Wolf Point, represents House District 31.

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