Sen. Tester votes to protect the quality of Montana’s waterways

Make no mistake – if you’re an angler or someone who simply enjoys Montana’s wild places and clean headwaters streams – and doesn’t that include most of us in this state? – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester stood up for you Tuesday.

A bill sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., that would have forced the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw and rewrite its Clean Water Rule was blocked in the Senate.

It was a close thing. The bill required 60 votes for passage. It attracted only 57 — including several Democrats, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Sen. Steve Daines voted for Barrasso’s bill, as did all Republican senators.

But in a key decision, Sen. Tester voted to protect the quality of Montana’s waterways.

The bill would have thrown water-quality regulation into chaos. The Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule, was issued by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers in May, and has been relentlessly targeted by industry and conservatives ever since.

While the rule is on hold because of federal lawsuits, it is expected by many legal observers to survive in the courts. The Senate legislation posed a far greater threat.

The rule itself is far from the example of governmental overreach it has been made out to be. It is in fact a compromise worked out over years of research and negotiation. It is based on sound science and will provide protection for key rivers and watersheds, but will not block sensible development.

Tester also sent EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and the head of the Corps of Engineers a letter urging continued clarification of the way the rule is to be implemented.

Tester said Tuesday, “As a Montana farmer, I know that clean water and clean air are vital to farmers and ranchers, to sportsmen and women, and to the future of our state’s economy. Some folks in Montana have concerns that the clean water rule doesn’t provide enough certainty, and that’s why I’m continuing to push the EPA and the Corps to address that. But this bill is a political distraction from the hard work of bringing folks together in the middle to strike a balance that works for Montana.”

We agree, and believe that Tester deserves congratulations for standing firm on a tough vote.