© 2014 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana
This week in Helena we had the opportunity to witness political courage, statesmanship and leadership. We also experienced political theater, one-upmanship, and jockeying for power and control. We left feeling great disappointment with the committee members of the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) who do not seem to understand the important need for rigorous, objective and unbiased studies of the CSKT water compact, or were unwilling to shoulder the responsibility that they have in this matter.
Instead of demonstrating leadership and taking seriously the threats to the state of Montana this water compact represents, they opted to pass the buck to a committee that by virtue of its makeup and politics, seems likely to give the compact little more than lip service, lipstick in the form of some “tweaking”, and viola, the CSKT water compact will be given new life.
In hindsight, the fact that the EQC chairman was only willing to give thirty minutes on the agenda for such an important issue should have been a clue as to the direction they planned to move. It also tells us they were either not interested in hearing what the public had to say about the compact, or as Senator Keane indicated, were too busy with other issues to adequately consider the request.
As we’ve been saying for the past year and a half, the CSKT compact is essentially a forever document. We only have one chance to get it right. As it is written, it is full of legal and constitutional issues, and buried within its fourteen hundred or so pages, it is a vehicle to give the United States control over the waters of western Montana under the guise of federal reserved water rights.
Introduced to the public during the holiday season of 2012, and submitted to the legislature late in the 2013 session, it quickly became apparent that there was not enough information to understand the compact, its impact on existing water and property rights, and its implications to future generations of Montanans. It is unfortunate that the compact commission deflected this criticism with outright lies, misrepresentations, and rationalizations for their Nancy Pelosi “pass the bill now and we can find out what is in it later” approach to this very real threat to the state of Montana.
The compact commission’s recent publication of the governor’s report on the CSKT compact doubled down on their talking points and set in stone their determination to not provide viable and substantive information for the public and decision makers. See Concerned Citizen’s analysis of that report.
With all of this in mind, fifty legislators signed onto a letter requesting the EQC to order independent and unbiased legal, constitutional, economic and environmental impact studies for this compact. These fifty legislators understand how important it is to get this compact right, and the fact that so many legislators made this request should have made a powerful statement to the committee that they needed to do the right thing.
Instead of demonstrating responsible leadership, and given some prodding from Governor Bullock, the EQC punted to a political operative, and placed the compact studies in the hands of a committee the majority of whose members support the compact as it currently is written.
WHAT QUESTIONS MUST BE ANSWERED?
In addition to the letter submitted to EQC, legislators developed an extensive list of questions. Each question is very specific and was intended to get to the heart of the compact’s problems, and to avoid the bias that exists in Helena with respect to legislative staff, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), and all the lobbying that the CSKT continue to do to ramrod this compact through the legislature. The full list of questions can be found here.
This list of questions must be answered fairly and objectively before decision makers are asked to consider the compact again. Might we suggest that the next time you run into legislators who support the compact, such as Representative Salomon and Senator Tutvedt, that you ask them how they can support the compact with all of these questions remaining unanswered?
The EQC is tasked to gather and analyze information in order to make informed policy recommendations and decisions about complex natural resource and environmental issues. It is within their purview to recommend and oversee rigorous and unbiased studies of the compact, and they passed the buck, thereby making compact proponents, including Governor Bullock very happy indeed.
So let’s return to the question we started with: HOW WILL THE CSKT INFORMATIONAL VACUUM BE FILLED? Will it be filled with substantive and objective studies and valid responses to the questions that remain unanswered, or will the public be forced to sit through more political theater wondering what behind the scenes maneuvering is taking place to effectively hand over an only slightly modified compact to the CSKT / federal government?
While we can certainly hold out hope that the Water Policy Interim Committee (WPIC) will do the right thing, they have already signaled the desire for some “tweaking” of the compact. It is our position that there is not enough tweaking in the world that could make this compact palatable. The Salomon HB636 and Jackson amended SB265 bills worked on by the same political operatives promised only a “cursory study”, and we have serious questions that the proceedings over the next several months will be little more than continued theater.
We ask the people of western Montana to hold this committee accountable to do more than providing lip service and lipstick and to do the right thing for the state of Montana and the 360,000 people whose water and property rights are at risk because of this compact.
As to the role that the lobbyist for a group of “so called compact opponents” played in accomplishing this shift of power and responsibility to a biased and unfavorable committee, that will be another story for another day.