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House Bill 625, introduced by Rep. Bill Mercer, R-Billings, would affect all Montanans by undercutting a vital water quality standard that is decades in the making.

HB625 would eliminate the DEQ’s numeric limits for nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in Montana’s lakes, rivers and streams. This bill would sidestep the rulemaking process and the justice system. The end result could be harmful to Montana’s waterways and tourism industry.

Excessive nutrients in our waterways are known to promote algae growth, which suffocates the aquatic life that small plants and animals depend on. Larger species like trout, walleye, and other game fish feed on these small plants and animals. Algae overgrowth also discourages other recreational uses like swimming and boating, in part because of the foul odor that is often produced. HB625 literally stinks!

One of Mercer’s arguments is that other states don’t feel the need for nutrient limits. But none of these places have Montana’s pristine environment, which attracts visitors, delights residents and is a leading driver of our state’s economy. Clean water is an asset we want to preserve.

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While the EPA has no set nutrient limits, it “strongly encouraged” states to develop their own. Responsible states did just that. Here in Montana, the DEQ convened a Nutrient Working Group, of which Bill Mercer was a member. After years of work, including the study of various water bodies, numeric standards were created, along with a “variance” process to give polluters time to bring operations up to snuff.

The variance procedure set forth by the working group has been challenged in court as a violation of the Clean Water Act. Rather than allow the judicial system to sort out the issue, Mercer’s bill would scrap the numeric standard altogether. This creates unnecessary upheaval in the system that is now relied upon by industry, citizens and regulatory agencies alike, leaving no verifiable way to gauge nutrient pollution. Many years of labor by the Nutrient Working Group would be for naught.

HB625 is in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. If you prefer clean water over sickly green, fishless streams and lakes in this state, please let your senators know. Also, please let Gov. Steve Bullock know that he should veto HB625 if it somehow escapes the Senate.

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Gray Harris, a member of Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council, resides in Rep. Bill Mercer’s House District

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