Tester Slams Interior’s Bait-And-Switch on Badger-Two Medicine Leases

Senator to Secretary Bernhardt: Your actions are breaking the promise our government made the Blackfeet people

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is slamming the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) for reneging on its commitment to the Blackfeet Tribe by reversing its decision to permanently protect the sacred Badger-Two Medicine area.

Last month, the Interior Department withdrew its appeal in a U.S. District Court case regarding one of the last remaining oil leases in the Badger-Two Medicine-paving the way for private drilling in the area. Tester is now calling on Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to uphold the Department’s commitment to remove all active leases in the area.

“I am deeply disappointed in your recent actions,” Tester wrote to Secretary Bernhardt. “These actions represent a troubling abdication of DOI’s responsibility and disregard for the opinions of both the Blackfeet Nation and Montanans. I urge you to uphold the Department’s promises to the Blackfeet Nation and all Montanans and rejoin the efforts to defend Badger-Two Medicine from unwanted development.”

The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service granted 47 oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine in 1982. Two years later, a drilling permit was approved on one of the leases, but drilling was stalled when a moratorium was placed on oil and gas drilling in the area.

The Interior Department cancelled the controversial Solonex oil and gas lease in 2016, and Devon Energy voluntarily relinquished 15 oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine later that year-leaving just two active leases remaining. The Department then canceled those last two leases-to J.G. Kluthe Trust of Nebraska and W.A. Moncrief Jr. of Texas-in January of 2017.

Both Moncrief and Solonex subsequently sued the Department and got their lease cancellations overturned. Up until last month, Interior had planned to appeal both of these rulings, but just a few weeks after David Bernhardt replaced Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior, the agency decided to withdraw its appeal in the Moncrief case. Last week, the Department went even further by asking the court to dismiss the Moncrief case entirely, which would prevent the Blackfeet Tribe from continuing to pursue the appeal on their own.

Tester recently opposed Bernhardt’s nomination to lead the Department of the Interior-in part because of his decision to withdraw the agency’s appeal of the Badger-Two Medicine ruling.

“We thank Senator Tester for his steadfast support and commitment to the Blackfeet people,” said Timothy Davis, Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council. “For 30 years, we lived under threat that the Badger-Two Medicine might be dug up and desecrated. We rejoiced when that threat was finally lifted in 2017, but now the Department of the Interior has gone back on its word, wronging the Blackfeet people all over again.”

Tester has long supported protecting the Badger-Two Medicine, and has repeatedly called on the Department of the Interior to cancel the remaining leases in the area, citing the area’s importance to the Blackfeet Tribe and Montana’s sportsmen and women.

The Badger-Two Medicine is located at the intersection of the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Read Tester’s letter to Secretary Bernhardt HERE.