Sunday, June 13, 2021

Rosendale underscores opposition to earmarks during tour of Libby Dam

The Western News | May 28, 2021 7:00 AM


U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale poses with Josh Baltz, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with life jackets for National Safe Boating Week. Rosendale received a tour of the Libby Dam on May 22. (Will Langhorne/The Western News)

Montana’s sole representative to the U.S. House toured the Libby Dam during a visit to Lincoln County last weekend.

U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, a Republican and member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said the May 22 visit left him fascinated by the feats of engineering that went into the construction of the dam.

“It’s just incredible knowing that it was built back in the ’70s, and to have the recreation and the energy and the flood management provisions all built in there, it’s impressive,” he said.

Rosendale said he planned to look into selenium concentrations in Lake Koocanusa after learning the metalloid was leaching into the reservoir from upstream Canadian coal mines.

Last year, officials with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality approved new standards for selenium in the lake and Kootenai River after studies showed the metalloid could compromise the reproduction of certain species of local fish. Lincoln County elected officials have opposed the move, citing concerns that the new standards could restrict development.

Earlier this year, the EPA approved the standards set by DEQ. A Canadian court fined Teck Resources, the company that owns the mines, $60 million in March for polluting a river upstream of Lake Koocanusa with selenium and calcite.

Rosendale said he also planned to research promises made by officials to place additional facilities around the lake in exchange for creating the lake.

“I hadn’t heard anything about the additional improvements that had been promised to these communities as they lost the use of their land,” he said. “That was very eye opening to me. We’re going to go back ... and look at the record and see what those promises were and see if we can’t make sure the government keeps good on that.”

For years, local elected officials have petitioned lawmakers to consider compensating Lincoln County for land lost during the construction of the Libby Dam. The creation of Lake Koocanusa constricted the amount of taxable private land in the county by 10 percent. The private and public land now underwater also represents some of the most productive timberlands in the area.

During this year’s legislative sessions — and at least two prior sessions — state Sen. Mike Cuffe (R-Eureka) has carried a resolution detailing these grievances and asking that Canada’s right to divert water from the Kootenai River be stricken from the Columbia River Treaty.

In March, Rosendale signed a pledge saying he would not request funding for projects in his district through earmarks. Operations and maintenance costs on the Libby Dam are among a list of projects officials have predetermined to qualify for dollars through earmarked funds.

Montana elected officials have worried that Rosendale’s stance might short local projects federal dollars.

“I’d hate to think that the entire state of Montana is leaving resources on the table that most other states are taking advantage of,” Missoula Mayor John Engen told Montana Public Radio in response to Rosendale’s pledge.

Following his tour of the dam, Rosendale reiterated his position and advocated for Congress as a whole to allocate funding for projects. In contrast with the regular budgeting process, Rosendale said earmarks — or requests for funding submitted by lawmakers — could lead to the federal government backing pet projects.

“When you allow spending to be controlled by earmarks, you’re basically turning that control not over to Congress but to a few members of Congress and basically leadership and that is nothing more than the currency of corruption,” he said.

Rosendale also stood his ground in regards to his vote against the creation of the Jan. 6 commision — a panel that would investigate the riot at the Capital earlier this year.

“I think that [the commission] is nothing more than a political witch hunt and I wasn’t going to support it,” he said. “It’s literally being controlled by the Democratic Party and I think that it is a very poor thing for our country.”

Creation of the bipartisan commission met with approval in the House with 35 Republicans breaking ranks to support it. In a reversal, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposed the measure even after Democrats agreed to meet his stipulations for any such investigation.

The commission also has critics in the Senate, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Opponents of former President Donald Trump, Republican senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins among them, also have raised concerns about the proposed panel.