Zinke, too, should back Tester’s proposal

by Bozeman Daily Chronicle

U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is commended for accelerating an agency review of mining on federal land in Paradise Valley and proposing a 20-year moratorium on mining claims in the area just north of Yellowstone National Park.

But he should also throw his support behind legislation introduced by Montana Sen. Jon Tester that would withdraw the areas from mining permanently. The area – which includes critical wildlife habitat and heavily dependent on tourism – is simply inappropriate for mining development, and Zinke is apparently acknowledging that.

Two mining projects have been proposed for the area, and Zinke’s predecessor in the Obama administration, Sally Jewel, had ordered a two-year moratorium on new federal land mining claims in the area and a review of mining potential and impacts. Zinke is seeking to speed up that process with an eye toward withdrawing the lands from new mining claims for 20 years.

The bill introduced by Tester, a Democrat, would make the withdrawal permanent. The other two members of the state’s congressional delegation, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte, both Republicans, have said Tester’s bill would not make it through the Republican-controlled Congress. But with unanimous support from the delegation and the backing of Zinke, a Montanan and former member of Congress, the legislation would have a very good chance for approval.

Hyper-partisanship has become the order of the day in Washington. But there are some things that are simply too important to be derailed by pure politics.

The two mining proposals under consideration in Paradise Valley both involve some private land, and Interior Department policy cannot affect what happens on private land. But both proposals will need to expand to adjacent public land to reach the scale that would make them economically feasible. Making those federal lands off limits to mining permanently would go a long way toward protecting this sensitive area for perpetuity.

With unanimous support for Tester’s bill, these Montanans could show the rest of Washington that things can be accomplished through bipartisanship.