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Guest opinion: Sen. Daines deserves no credit for Yellowstone bill
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Guest opinion: Sen. Daines deserves no credit for Yellowstone bill

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Emigrant Peak

Mining exploration was blocked near Emigrant Peak, shown behind the Yellowstone River in the Paradise Valley of Park County. 

We just saw Sen. Steve Daines’s campaign ad taking credit for the hard work of Montana business owners. For the benefit of his re-election, our junior Senator falsely claims he passed a bill to prevent mining next to Yellowstone National Park.

For two and a half years, we worked to pass that bill by engaging our business community in Park and Gallatin counties, and we can tell you: That bill didn’t pass because of Steve Daines; it passed in spite of him.

Sen. Daines had to be pressured simply to acknowledge the bill existed, even while hundreds of bipartisan business owners from the Paradise Valley and throughout the region — rightly concerned about an underfunded, fly-by-night Canadian mining company with plans to mine next to Emigrant Peak — called on our elected representatives at all levels to protect their jobs. While leaders from both sides of the aisle heard their constituents' concern, Sen. Daines offered only silence when Montana’s senior senator, Jon Tester, introduced the Yellowstone bill in March 2017. When business owners called Sen. Daines that spring, asking him to use his position on a Senate subcommittee to get a hearing on the Yellowstone bill, he and his staff stopped returning phone calls and went radio silent for weeks, letting critical time pass.

Ignored by Sen. Daines, business owners had no choice but to go public with their request for a hearing, and we were happy to support and coordinate that effort. Headlines like “Locals seek action from Steve Daines on fed mining ban” (Livingston Enterprise, June 20, 2017) and “Paradise Valley mine opponents pressure Daines to support Tester’s ban” (Bozeman Daily Chronicle, June 22, 2017) got his attention.

Thanks to this public pressure, the bill got a hearing in July. But Sen. Daines wasted the year raising a series of dubious objections to Tester’s bill. What could be the delay?

First, he said this public lands bill needed to protect private property rights. Then he went on record saying he didn’t support the bill at all: “Jon’s bill will go nowhere,” he told the Billings Gazette in August. After that, he surprised everyone – including his own staff – by saying that he’d introduce his own bill (which we never heard of again). A few weeks after that, he told business owners that he wanted certain wilderness study areas stripped of protection as the price for his support. As business owners watched a mining company’s plans progress, their requests that Sen. Daines co-sponsor Tester’s bill became more urgent – in person, on phone calls, with letters to the editor, and in op-eds with headlines like “Daines holds up Yellowstone Gateway Act" in the Gazette. But Sen. Daines offered nothing.

The most infuriating obstruction came in March 2018. Congress compiled a big budget bill, and oftentimes, short, simple bills with significant public support, like the Yellowstone bill, get included because they’re rolled into the larger bill. The only requirement? All three Montana Congressional members must state their support.

Sen. Tester, who introduced the bill, supported it.

Rep. Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who introduced an identical bill in the House, supported it.

Sen. Daines did not. His circular, disingenuous excuse for blocking this bipartisan, common-sense bill? It would never get bipartisan support. Except, the bill already had champions across party lines.

We’re convinced the reason Sen. Daines stalled was because — much like this year — it was time for re-election and Sen. Tester was campaigning. Oddly enough, after Tester won re-election, Sen. Daines’s stalling abruptly ended. The bill was signed into law the following March.

Daines sat silently, rather than stand for his constituents when called upon to protect Yellowstone’s gateway, and now he wants credit. Don’t be fooled. When Montanans asked for this bill, Sen. Daines didn’t deliver.

Beth Kampschror and Liz Purdy are the former communications and organizing leads at Greater Yellowstone Coalition in Bozeman. Dan Gigone, Nathan Varley, and Rick Lamplugh were active members of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition. 

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