Belgrade News: A conversation with Sen. Tester

by Karen E. Davis

Last Friday morning, the staff of the Belgrade News had a coffee date with Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

Tester was in town to talk about a bill he has sponsored to expand medical coverage to military veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, which the military used to get rid of garbage and surplus equipment. This method releases burning toxic chemicals, something the military belatedly discovered and has been slow to deal with when it sickens soldiers.

The PACT Act of 2022 “is expected to make it to the president’s desk next week,” Tester said Friday. “I’m pretty confident about that. We’ll get this done.”

“We’re still dealing with Agent Orange. We’ve got post-WWII munitions, radiation, on the Pacific Atolls where we did bombing,” he said.

Belgrade’s U.S. Sen. Steve Daines also voted for the bill in its last procedural vote. It passed the Senate 86-12. Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale voted against the House version of the same bill. It passed 256-174. HIs stated reasoning was that it would create a backlog of VA claims.

Tester also talked about:

• Funding for a rehab project on the St. Mary’s Dam, a water project along the North Fork of the Milk River. “I’ve got $100 million for that in an infrastructure bill. The dam was originally authorized in 1905 and built in 1913. The Milk River runs up to Canada,” Tester said.

The dam has been failing for years, and the entire irrigation project along the Hi-Line needs to be repaired. Tester’s press release stated he was the sole member of the Montana Congressional delegation to vote for the bill. He claims the project would bring 800,000 construction jobs to Montana.

Canada needs to cooperate regarding these repairs? “Yep,” Tester replied, adding that Canada is still dragging its feet on how much to pony up for the irrigation repairs.

• Legislation regarding the price disparity between what Montana ranchers are paid for their beef and the record profits meat packers are reporting.

“The beef stuff doesn’t happen overnight,” Tester said, “but it will eventually have an effect. With the special investments, more processors, will mean more competition.

“The packers are making record profits.”

Tester has multiple ag-related bills, all in Senate committee. He said his Meatpacker Stockyard Act replacement legislation should be moved out of committee by June 24.

• The drought in Montana.

Tester is the only actively farming member of Congress. He told the Belgrade News he had been out on his tractor two weeks ago, “and I could see my winter wheat shriveling before my eyes, it was so dry. The Hi-Line got half an inch of rain,” which was equal to what it got in the last year.


A talk of Montana wheat easily segues to a talk on Ukraine, which supplies 30 percent of the world’s wheat. Problems in Ukraine “will certainly have an impact on Montana prices,” Tester said.

What about dealing with Russian blockades in the Black Sea, so Ukraine can’t ship last year’s crop to market?

“We had a classified briefing yesterday on blockades,” Tester responded. “The challenge is (Russian) nuclear escalation.”

And, he cautioned, the public should never assume that what is publicly admitted by the federal government is all that’s being done for Ukraine, and in Ukraine.

“We ARE supplying military equipment they want. The biggest challenge is getting accurate information in and out of Ukraine. And we’re doing humanitarian aid for the displaced,” he said.

“I saw farmers seeding with bullet-proof jackets. Ukraine has 85 percent of the world’s cooking oil. This war is going to push prices up for the farmers.”