Yellowstone bill gets hearing; MT agency approves exploration on private lands

This past week saw some good news and not-so-good news regarding the fight against risky gold mining projects at Yellowstone's northern gateway.

The good news: Sen. Jon Tester's bill to protect Yellowstone's gateway from gold mines got a hearing. The not-so-good news: The Montana agency that permits exploration on private lands approved exploratory drilling by the Canadian company planning to mine up Emigrant Gulch -- highlighting the urgency around passing Sen. Tester's bill.

The hearing last Wednesday, for Sen. Tester's bill to keep new gold mining proposals off of 30,000 acres of your public lands north of Yellowstone, went well. 

Opening remarks from junior Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) -- they begin at 13:00 in the video available by clicking here and scrolling down -- were encouraging. Among his comments: 

  • "This legislation is important, as it would protect an area in Montana we call Paradise Valley. It's called Paradise Valley for a reason."
  • "I am committed to working with Sen. Tester and local stakeholders on this important piece of legislation."

So what's next? Sen. Daines's hometown paper editorialized in support of the bill Sunday, saying that the bill will have a chance if both Sen. Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte support it:

Daines and Gianforte, both Republicans, are likely to be subject to pressure from the industry-favoring Trump administration to oppose the bill by Tester, a Democrat. But this issue is too important for political posturing.

Issuing political platitudes on the importance of protecting sensitive areas isn’t going to cut it. Daines and Gianforte should clearly state their support for S. 941, which will permanently withdraw mineral rights on a critical 30,000 acres of public land in Paradise Valley. Unanimity among the Montana delegation is the only way these protections are likely to be enacted given that Republicans control the House, Senate and White House.

Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte: Is it a yes or is it a no?

Now is the time to back this bill and move it through Congress, as we know from last week's not-so-good news: Montana's Department of Environmental Quality approvedCanadian company Lucky Minerals's plans for exploratory drilling up Emigrant Gulch -- the very place Sen. Tester highlighted at last week's hearing (see below).

Sen. Jon Tester speaking about his bill to protect your public lands from gold mining at Emigrant Gulch (pictured) and Crevice Mountain, just north of Yellowstone National Park.

Sen. Jon Tester speaking about his bill to protect your public lands from gold mining at Emigrant Gulch (pictured) and Crevice Mountain, just north of Yellowstone National Park.

That exploration could begin soon on private lands underlines how urgent it is to pass Sen. Tester's bill to protect our public lands from any expansion of these risky projects. Colin Davis, owner of Chico Hot Springs Resort and founding member of our partner group the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, said it best to the Billings Gazette:

"We need the help of our entire delegation," Davis said. "This isn't Jon Tester's bill, this is Montana's bill. Its language is pretty straightforward."

Davis added that the DEQ approval "points out the urgency for our congressional delegation to unify and act together to shepherd the Protection Act through."

This is one hurdle down for Lucky Minerals. We'll keep a close eye on this possible private-lands exploration every step of the way. In the meantime, we invite Sen. Daines to support the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act and to move it through the next step -- markup -- this fall.

-- Joe Josephson, Montana Conservation Associate