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Rob Cook stumps for PSC in Havre

 

Rob Cook

Rob Cook, Republican Public Service Commision candidate for District 1, was in Havre Friday to speak to the North Central Pachyderm Club on his positions and goals for the PSC.

Cook is a graduate of Montana State University in Bozeman, with a degree in mechanical engineering, and former owner of Intercontinental Truck Body, a heavy manufacturing facility.

Cook also is serving his eighth year in Montana's House of Representatives where he serves on the Joint Select Committee on Pensions and on the Appropriations Committee, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Long-Range Planning.

Cook faces former Rep. Randy Pinocci of Sun River, Cory McKinney of Great Falls and Mark Wicks, an Inverness farmer and rancher, in the Republican primary.

The winner of that election will face Democrat Doug Kaercher of Havre in the general election.

In his run for the  PSC, Cook said, his goal for the office is "to bring some regulatory stability back to Montana's regulatory climate."

He said a stable and predictable regulatory climate helps promote investments within the state.

Cook also spoke on the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes Water Compact, which Pinocci has made a major issue in his campaign, attacking Cook for his 2015 vote in the Legislature in favor of the compact.

The compact was approved and now is pending action in Congress.

Cook said the PSC has nothing to do with the compact.

He said two claims are being made about the compact: one, that the CSKT water compact is unconstitutional and, two, that this water compact threatens Montana's right to water.

Addressing the first point, Cook said that back in November of 2017 the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the water compact was constitutional.

In the state of Montana, the water compact is one of many approved by the state and it has been an active law within the state since 2015, Cook said.

He added, that during a drought in the western part of the state in 2016 the strength of the water compact was tested and proved to be beneficial for the communities.

"Emotions frequently win elections and it's difficult to stomp out the emotions with the facts. Nobody is satisfied with just the facts," Cook said.

Cook said that one of the reasons that the CSKT water compact has been controversial is that it is under The Stevens Treaty, which gives Native Americans the right to fish at their accustomed places off the reservations while under later treaties Native Americans are not entitled to off-reservation rights, Cook said.

Water rights themselves are divided into consumptive and non-consumptive rights, Cook said. Consumptive secures municipal and irrigation rights, while non-consumptive is "in stream flow" and secures the health of the fisheries.

Non-consumptive water rights are not just regulated by water compacts but also by four federal laws, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Federal Power Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers act, Cook said. Off-reservation rights is the same water that is already regulated by the federal government.

Cook said those regulations impact whether the CSKT couldgenerate hydropower with off-reservation-water rights, then the tribes would have to change the off-reservation water from non-consumptive to consumptive. That is nearly impossible, Cook said, because the tribes would have to prove that this action would not injure any other water right holder within the whole basin.

Although some fear that this compact is causing people to lose water rights, that is a misconception, Cook said.The water compact secures the water rights, he added.

A benefit to the CSKT water compact is that the water right stays with the land, Cook said.

Cook said that the actual number of appropriated water on the reservation per irrigated acre is 10 percent of the reservation and rounds up to about 4 feet per acre, not the 40 per acre of the entire reservation that has been cited.

Cook added that the CSKT water compact is beneficial for the state, saving the state close to $73 million. Irrigation claims CSKT had east of the divide under the Stevens Treaty, removed  by the CSKT water compact, total 27,851 claims, Cook said. Those could have required the state to establish an additional water court and adjudicate these claims, costing millions.

The federal money in the water compact also will pay for $1.6 billion worth of construction on the Salish Kootenai irrigation project, Cook said.

Cook said that will result in 65,000 acre feet of additional water per year to help balance the in-stream flow and help during the dry years that may come in the future. The water compact secures consistent flow in perpetuity not only for the reservation but for off the reservation as well, he said.

Cook also spoke on the PSC's involvement in cooperative electric programs, saying "for electric cooperatives, independent governance and local control must be preserved."

"For electric cooperatives, independent governance and local control must persevere," Cook added. "Co-ops function properly because they are locally controlled. The closer you get the governance to the ground the more effective the governance will be."

His history in the Legislature and the history of his business highlight his ability to solve problems of any scale, Cook said, but no commissioner can avoid lawsuits brought about by companies that dispute its findings.

Cook said claims that a certain commissioner could help the PSC avoid or get out of lawsuits is "ridiculous."

 

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