Local legislators said many bills are passing through the Legislature in an effort to increase oil and gas development and natural resource extraction, including a proposal by a Havre senator to take land from the federal government.
Rick Dow of Havre asked legislators in Helena during a video conference in Havre Wednesday about the issue.
Dow said he had read that Democratic U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester were supporting a measure that would reduce oil and gas exploration in some areas. While that is a federal matter, Dow noted, he asked what the Legislature was doing on the issue.
Senators would limit development near Glacier
Dow was referring to the senators reintroducing a bill to limit oil and gas exploration and drilling on the north fork of the Flathead River, including companies voluntarily retiring their claims on the region.
In a press release, the senators said Monday that the act would not impede timber production, hunting or fishing and has the support of a broad coalition of Montana businesses, local officials and conservation groups.
State Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre., said a number of bills that would help increase oil and gas production are working through the Legislature, including one he has sponsored.
Bill would let state seize federal land
Senate Bill 254, which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, would allow the state to use eminent domain to take land in Montana owned by the federal government.
“That would literally allow the state to take back land … land that was, I think, wrongfully taken by our federal government,” said Hutton.
The Senate majority confirmed today that Hutton has resigned effective the end of this session.
The law is similar to one passed by the lawmakers of Utah last year, and one proposed in Idaho this year, he added.
Hutton said work on changing the state’s workers compensation laws also could bring more development in oil and gas, by attracting new or more business to the state.
Warburton bill would let state veto federal monuments
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, said a bill she has sponsored to prevent federal declaration of national monuments without state approval also could help promote development in the oil and gas industry.
“Actually, there are a variety of ways people are looking at doing that,” she said.
Warburton's bill has passed the House and has received a preliminary OK from the Senate.
Hutton said oil and gas development and natural resource extraction are a major focus in this legislative session.
“Most everybody that I hang out with understands, if we do not develop our natural resources we’re not going to have the funding for the schools, the universities; we’re not going to have the jobs we need to have.”
He added that Montana could learn from its neighboring states which he said have successfully promoted natural resource extraction in a responsible manner.
“What would happen if the governor said to the school systems, ‘We just have so much money we don’t know what to do with it?’” Hutton asked. “Basically, that’s the problem they’re having in North Dakota right now.”