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Conservation Groups Push for "Clean" Budget Bill

Montana's Tongue River is just one that could be affected by last-minute riders to the omnibus budget bill in Congress. Credit: Alexis Bonogofsky
Montana's Tongue River is just one that could be affected by last-minute riders to the omnibus budget bill in Congress. Credit: Alexis Bonogofsky
December 1, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. - Conservation groups are speaking out in favor of a "clean" budget bill - meaning one without riders that would weaken environmental protections.

Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass the omnibus spending bill or face a government shutdown. Some lawmakers want to include controversial riders to the must-pass bill that would gut the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water and Stream Protection Rules.

John Bradley with the Montana Wildlife Federation's Eastern Montana field staff said that would be the wrong approach, because healthy wetlands are crucial for the state's wild game and fish, not to mention its people.

"Our streams and wetlands trap floodwaters, they recharge groundwater supplies, they filter out pollution," he said, "which is important because approximately 54 percent of Montana's populations use public drinking-water systems that rely on clean surface water."

The move came after the Senate recently defeated a bill by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., that would have forced the EPA to rewrite the Waters of the United States rule, which protects smaller streams and tributaries. Bradley praised Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., for voting against the Barrasso bill.

"We're really just trying to build up the base support to let Senator Tester, and the others who are voting the right way on the Clean Water Rule, to give them the political cover to stand up and say, 'No, we don't want any environmental riders on the appropriations bill.'"

Bradley noted that clean water also is the linchpin of Montana's outdoor economy, which supports 64,000 jobs in the Treasure State.

The text of Barrasso's bill, SB 1140, is online at barrasso.senate.gov.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT