Montana Audubon

Montana Audubon works at the local, state and national policy levels to protect our natural heritage.

Legislative Alert- Week of 2/6/17

Anti-regulation fervor takes shape in Helena; bills emerge that threaten wildlife and environmental protections, and more.

Last week’s legislative work began with a bang in Helena: as you’ve probably heard by now, over 1,000 Montanans from across the state packed into the capitol to let our elected officials know that public lands belong in public hands, and Montanans won’t tolerate attempts at public lands transfers. Governor Bullock gave a rousing speech in defense of public lands, vowing that no transfer will occur on his watch. A few days later we learned that Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was withdrawing his controversial land transfer bill, and it is believed that this was largely do to a massive public outcry.  While we see many other threats on the horizon, we know it’s important to celebrate the victories too!

Montana Audubon places advocacy for birds, native wildlife, and habitat protection at the top of our priority list. We have also been closely following a number of anti-regulation bills that surfaced in the legislature this week. While these bills don’t directly address wildlife and habitat, their passage and implementation would ultimately be detrimental to both across our state. That’s why in this week’s alert, we wanted to take the time to introduce you to three bills we are working hard to stop.

An “end to regulation” has become a rallying cry for some legislators in Helena lately, but we know that carefully developed and responsibly implemented regulations are what keeps our air and water clean, our wildlife habitat resilient, our wetlands and wildlands protected, and allow our native birds and wildlife to thrive.

This week’s action alert includes an update on 3 anti-regulation bills we’re tracking and how you can help prevent them from becoming law.

An Extreme “Regulatory Takings” Bill

We are working hard with advocacy groups from across the state to prevent a very bad “regulatory takings” bill from moving forward. Senate Bill 98, introduced by Senator Cary Smith (R-Billings) is an extreme bill that would expand requirements to compensate private property owners every time a government action (laws, rules, policies, permit conditions, etc.) was alleged to reduce the market value of even a portion of their property by any amount. If this bill were to become law, we expect it would be the end to land-use planning, environmental protection, and wildlife management as we know it.

Both the Montana and US Constitutions already have protections in place for private property owners, but this bill attempts to flip our entire regulatory system on its head. Under SB 98, local and state officials unable to pay compensation or litigate claims would be forced to waive the government action in question, severely limiting their ability to protect public health, safety, and welfare, which has long been recognized as a primary function of government.

As Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously stated, “Government hardly could go on if to some extent values incident to property could not be diminished without paying for every such change in the general law.” You can help by contacting members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and telling them that such an extreme, expensive, and dangerous regulatory takings bill has no place in Montana. We still need a few more votes to ensure this bill doesn’t move forward, so please consider making a call to one of these committee members:

Or click here to send an email to the entire committee and say Vote NO on SB 98.

Resolution for Regulation Freedom

Senator Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) has introduced a Resolution (SJ6) in support of a Regulation Freedom Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment would require that anytime one quarter of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate are opposed to a federal regulation, it would require a majority vote by both the House and Senate to adopt the regulation. This is part of a nationwide push by far-right, out-of-state interest groups to drastically reduce environmental regulations and limit the rule-making authority of agencies like the EPA and Department of Interior. While passage of the resolution would be largely symbolic at the moment, it sends the wrong message to Congress about the importance of the regulations intended to protect our land, air, water, and wildlife.

The resolution had a hearing in the Senate Energy Committee on Thursday, and could be up for executive action as soon as this week. At a time when our nation’s bedrock environmental laws are already under attack, Montana doesn’t need to be doing the work of out-of-state interest groups. If you agree, please consider making a call or sending a message and tell committee members to VOTE NO on Senate Joint Resolution 6.

Protect Habitat Montana funding

Now more than two decades old, Habitat Montana is one of our state’s greatest conservation success stories. It allows the state to cooperate with private landowners to conserve important habitat that benefits Montana’s wildlife. Funded by the sale of non-resident licenses/tags and a portion of resident tags, the program benefits Montana taxpayers by helping to maintain abundant game and non-game species.

In a tight budget year, we worry that some legislators will come after Habitat Montana funds. Please call or email the Appropriations subcommittee members and let them know you support funding for Habitat Montana. You can find their contact information by clicking here.

State Assumption of Clean Water Act Responsibilities

On Thursday of last week the Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 48, a bill calling for state assumption of certain Clean Water Act permitting currently administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Specifically, the state would take over permitting for the placement of “dredged or filled material” (soil, sand, gravel, rocks, and other materials) into rivers, streams, and wetlands, and other water bodies in Montana. There are numerous challenges to state assumption of the permitting program, and that is why only 2 states (Michigan and New Jersey) have chosen to do this.

The program is anticipated to cost Montana $1.6 million annually, and we view this as a poor use of public funds with no clear benefit to Montanans or the environment. Even under state control, the federal EPA would retain strong oversight and consultation with federal agencies is required. Essentially, the state would pay $1.6 million annually to administer a program the federal government currently administers for free. We think there are better uses of state funds that could improve permitting processes and protect environmental quality.

Due to the price tag, the bill was moved to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee. We are hopeful that with the help of our partner organizations, that’s where the bill will stay. Please click here to send an email to the committee and encourage them to VOTE NO on Senate Bill 48 because it’s a poor use of taxpayer funds with no clear benefit to the state!  Be sure to select the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, VOTE AGAINST SB 48. You can also include a personal message about the importance of clean water and wetlands for our native birds and wildlife

And of course, we’re keeping a close eye on legislation that affects Sage grouse, other wildlife, habitat funding and a range of issues at the core of Montana Audubon’s mission and we’ll provide an update on many of these soon!

Thanks to all of you who have been reading our action alerts and then contacting your legislators!  They have personally told us they are receiving your phone calls and messages and they are helping! If there is one positive thing going on these days for wildlife and the environment, it is the energy and activism of the conservation community. So THANK YOU, and KEEP IT UP!

In the meantime, we will continue to be the voice of native birds and wildlife, and the lands and waters upon which they depend, inside your state capitol! And as always, if you have any questions about what’s going on in Helena, contact Amy ([email protected]) or Dan ([email protected]) or call our office at 406.443.3949. We’d love to hear from you.

 Go, Fly, Win!

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