Press release: Montana landowners, family farms and ranches hold the line in 63rd Legislature – April 24, 2013

April 24, 2013

Categories: Agriculture, Clean Energy, Clean Water, Landowner Rights, Legislature, News, Northern Plains Resource Council, Oil and gas

By Northern Plains Resource Council

The 63rd Montana Legislature adjourned late this afternoon. After a series of hard-fought legislative scuffles, Northern Plains Resource Council members believe they held the line for Montana’s working family farms and ranches. Northern Plains is a Billings-based conservation and family agriculture group.

“As expected, Montanans from all walks of life including our members were forced to fight a number of ill-advised proposals that would have threatened our water resources, rural communities, and family farms and ranches,” said Northern Plains Chair Walter Archer.

Despite being widely discussed during the session, the Legislature failed to bring meaningful help to eastern Montana communities reeling from oil and gas impacts. A majority of this Legislature put the interests of out-of-state oil and gas companies ahead of taxpayers by choosing not to repeal the 18-month “oil and gas tax holiday” (SB 295) in order to fund critical infrastructure in eastern Montana – like roads, bridges, and public water systems.

Instead, the Legislature adopted a grossly inadequate short-term grant program (HB 218) that will come out of the state’s general fund, which means dealing with oil and gas impacts will be shouldered by Montana taxpayers instead of the very industry creating the problems.

Northern Plains is also disappointed in the attacks on Montanans’ rights in the electoral process, including a referendum on the 2014 ballot to end the ability of Montanans to register and vote up to Election Day (SB 405). Archer said, “This is not a time in our nation when lawmakers should be erecting barriers to the right of a citizen to cast a vote.”

The most notable attacks of the session came at the expense of Montana’s senior water rights holders and the growing renewable energy economy, both of which have immediate impacts on rural Montana communities. These included attempts to privatize Montana’s water resources (HB 37) and to change the rules that protect our water from being polluted by mining companies (SB 347). On the renewable energy front, the renewable energy standard was again in the crosshairs as out of step legislators attempted to weaken the laws that encourage the development of new wind and solar resources in Montana (SB 31, SB 45, SB 125, SB 138). While a number of these proposals were beaten back in the legislative process, Governor Bullock used his veto power to protect the interests of rural Montana.

Northern Plains members applauded the work of a bipartisan coalition of legislators working with landowner organizations to pass small measures to level the playing field for landowners. At the end of the session, Montana’s private property owners are marginally better off than they were in December. Both HB 417 and HB 45 passed the Legislature and mean the rights of landowners are more fairly balanced when they are facing eminent domain.

“We look forward to moving rural Montana forward in future sessions – growing our renewable energy economy, protecting water quality and water rights for future generations, and pursuing fairness in our tax policies and our election laws. We hope future legislatures will begin to place a higher priority on a sustainable future and on policies that represent the best interests of Montana citizens instead of corporations.” added Archer, who ranches in Powder River County.

“Our members appreciate those lawmakers and Governor Steve Bullock who stood with the interests of rural Montana and helped defeat the most dangerous proposals.”

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