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Yellowstone Gateway bill hits snag at House hearing

June 22, 2018
In The News

There weren’t many fireworks, but supporters got a whiff of political headwinds working against a bill to permanently ban new mining claims in the mountains north of Yellowstone National Park during a U.S. House subcommittee hearing on Thursday, as the committee’s Republican chair signaled his opposition to it. 

The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, was heard by the energy and minerals subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill, H.R. 4644, would withdraw mineral rights from 30,000 acres of federal land in the mountains east of the Paradise Valley, a move supporters see as a way to prevent the development of a large-scale mine. 

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, criticized the bill at the outset of the hearing, saying he’s generally opposed to mineral withdrawals and that they tend to deepen the country’s dependence on foreign minerals. He also said it wasn’t clear whether banning new claims to preserve land was worth the loss of potential revenue from mining there.

“That is a major step,” Gosar said. “I am not sure here today that we have the comprehensive clarity yet to take that step.”

Gosar was the only person to signal opposition to the bill at the hearing. The top Democrat on the committee said it was a good bill and should move easily through the House.

The bill is a companion to one sponsored by Montana’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, which was heard by a Senate committee in the summer of 2017. The congressional delegation said the measure was nearly included in a budget deal passed this March, and supporters hoped the hearing in the House would increase its chances of passage. 

Gianforte said he sponsored the measure because of a groundswell of support from the local community, which began when mining proposals first popped up in 2015. 

“The consensus of the community and the leadership there is clear: They do not want mining in Paradise Valley at the doors of Yellowstone National Park,” Gianforte said. 

Colin Davis, the owner of Chico Hot Springs and a founder of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, also spoke at the hearing. He told the committee that mining in the area would threaten his business, and that the bill was “an insurance policy for our economic future.”

“Not by any stretch of the imagination is Paradise Valley an appropriate place for a large-scale, open pit gold mine,” Davis said.

Caroline Byrd, executive director of Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said after the hearing that she is pleased with the momentum the House subcommittee meeting brings the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act.

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