An oilman seeking the Republican nomination for governor said Montana can solve its economic problems by easing restrictions on harvesting the state's natural resources.
Tom Keating said laws that complicate issues like getting permits should be overturned. Laws that protect the environment, rather than procedural laws, are the key to environmental protection and economic growth, he said.
"The Montana Environmental Policy Act is not an environmental law. It's a procedural law," Keating said in an interview Monday during a campaign visit to Havre. "The Clean Air and Clean Water acts of Montana that are in the statutes now are the true environmental protection laws. Our reclamation laws guarantee that all surface disturbances will be restored as near as possible to the original condition. Those are environmental laws and will be strictly enforced."
Keating said at the Hill County Lincoln Day Dinner on Sunday that the first oil and gas leases he ever worked were in the Havre area in the 1950s.
Keating and his opponents in the Republican primary - Secretary of State Bob Brown, Ken Miller and Pat Davison - all made short speeches at the dinner.
Keating was born in Langdon, N.D., in 1928, and graduated from Glasgow High School in 1946. After a stint in the U.S. Air Force, he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Portland University. He works in the petroleum industry in Billings.
Keating was elected to the state Senate in 1980 and served in the state Legislature for 20 years.
His running mate is Republican Matt Brainard of Florence.
Keating said the National Environmental Policy Act and the Montana Environmental Policy Act are being used by environmentalists to stifle industries that would harvest natural resources in the state.
An example is the loss of logging on federal land, he said.
"We had 30 sawmills at one time and, for the lack of logs, we are now down to around four sawmills in the state," he said.
Keating also wants to repeal the ban on cyanide heap-leach mining and the Major Facility Siting Act. He said he would negotiate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reach agreements allowing Montana to manage logging on federal land.
"This would provide healthy forest logs for the mills and reduce the risk of wildfire and save the expense of firefighting," Keating said.
He said President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiatives is a step in the right direction, but does not do enough to thin forests near communities and homes.
Environmental groups blocking mining, logging, drilling for oil and gas, and extracting coal-bed methane in the Powder River Basin have caused the income of Montanans to drop, Keating said.
In the 1960s, Montana had the 18th highest per-capita income in the country, he said. After environmental groups started blocking industry in the 1970s, the income now is 49th in the nation, he said.
Once impediments to industry are gone, Keating said, the state can start to benefit from economic growth.
"Any new wealth from the development of natural resources will grow our economy through numerous well-paying jobs," he said.
He supports policies to promote industry as well as eliminating restrictions on industry. Keating said one element is minimal taxation; others are minimal regulation, and stable, consistent policies and regulation.
Expansion of the tax base also will allow reduction of the tax rates, Keating said.
Increased revenue will provide more money for education and other programs, including the plan to widen U.S. Highway 2 to four lanes, he said.
"The four-lane highway for Highway 2 will eventually happen because the people along the Hi-Line want it to happen," he said.
But the key is responsibly harvesting resources, Keating said.
"Investors can build facilities in compliance with the clean air and clean water standards that will provide the jobs and production that Montana needs for greater economic development," he said. "All wealth comes from the earth and we need to get down to earth."