Dueling Water Policy Bills Result in Fear and Loathing in Senate Natural Resources Committee

by jhwygirl

Well, fear and loathing for me, at least…ya’all know how I am about water issues.

One of the biggest disappointments for me last week was Monday’s tabling of Senator David Wanzenried’s proposal brought forward out of his work with the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) – SB4, which would create a standing water policy subcommittee of the EQC. Also on the agenda in Monday’s hearing was Senator Terry Murphy’s proposed SB22, which would have – as originally proposed – created a permanent water policy committee.

I blogged about SB4 last week.

The interim Water Policy Committee was created in the 2007 legislative session as a subcommittee of the Environmental Quality Council to address, specifically, water quality and policy issues. It was created out of a recognition that water issues are both important and complex – and a special committee was needed to focus on those issues. The interim committee was also tasked with determining whether a permanent subcommittee to the EQC had any advantages for addressing the water policy issues that are important to the citizens of Montana. In other words, was there really a need in addressing water quality, quantity and policy issues that wasn’t been adequately addressed in the EQC?

A brief explanation is needed. The interim water policy committee was a subcommittee of the EQC because the EQC has the statutory responsibility and authority over water quality issues. It is established under Title 5, Chapter 16 of the Montana Code. In other words – it’s pretty important that any committee dealing with water fall under the EQC because only the EQC has authority to perform the administrative rule review, draft legislation review, program evaluation, and monitoring functions of an interim committee for the DEQ, FWP and DNRC. See clause 10.

SB4 was tabled on a party-line vote. SB22 moved forward, despite its deficiencies which, notably, was its proposal to create an autonomous water policy committee. That was a party-line vote also. SB22 does not allow for the direction and oversight of the EQC.

Testimony given on Monday relayed this important deficiency in SB22 – that there were statutory obligations that needed to be met, and creating an autonomous committee only created more dysfunction and ensured further delay in legislation related to water quality issues.

In the infinite wisdom of what is now clearly becoming a political battle, rather than an issue-oriented meeting of the minds, Republicans voted to table SB4, and start tweaking the already weak SB22.

Now we have a bill that is moving to alter Title 5 and the Montana Code regulating the EQC. This is where things always start to get dicey. The advantage to SB4 was that it kept the current state law as it has been. It didn’t go tweaking with a whole bunch of other laws. It had undergone extensive review during the interim committee sessions this past year.

These changes are being done under the enormous work load and ticking time clock that we call Montana Legislative Session 2009. This is how disasters happen – how ineffective legislation is created, and how good intentions turn into monsters for the citizens of Montana.

It’s this boring stuff, people, that you all need to give some attention. The repercussions are enormous and costly.

Now we have a bill proposing to create an autonomous interim committee for water policy. It would set its own agenda despite the fact that EQC oversees legislation for DEQ, FWP and DNRC (the regulatory water agencies).

Any law that removes the word “shall” and changes it to “may” is a disaster waiting to happen. Note that change in SB22.

Another important aspect of SB4 is its elimination of restrictions on terms in the EQC. This is sorely needed as water becomes more and more an upfront issue needing action. Water issues are complex, and should not be politicized. They need expertise, which can only be gained through time. Look at it this way – as Montana grows, there’s less water to go around. I want – Montanans deserve – expertise on the legislature regarding water issues. Eliminating terms is one way to get ’em.

Wanzenried isn’t exactly a screaming crazed liberal (sorry Dave). He’s a legislator’s legislator who looks at the issues, absent of partisan politics, and seeks to mediate and get the job done. Tabling a bill that had oversight and review of both the interim committee and the Natural Resources Committee is foolhardy.

I call on the Natural Resources Committee to leave politics out of water issues. It isn’t about who proposed the darn piece of legislation, yet alone what the party affiliation was for who proposed it. It’s about good legislation. Quit messing with other laws that have been working just to fix a weak SB22. Untable SB4, and work together to make SB4 the best water legislation to come out of the Montana Legislature, ever.


SB22 is being heard in the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Monday, at 8:30 a.m. Here is a list of the members:
Gebhardt, Kelly (Ch)
Barrett, Debby (V Ch)
Curtiss, Aubyn
Hansen, Ken
Kaufmann, Christine
Keane, Jim
Perry, Gary
Peterson, Jim
Steinbeisser, Donald
Tropila, Mitch
Wanzenried, David

You can submit pubic comment by emailing staffer Sonja Nowakowski and requesting distribution to committee members. I’ve also provided all the committee members email addresses above. Sonja’s email is snowakowski@mt.gov.


  1. 1 2009 Legislative Session: Week 3 (Part I) « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Monday we’ve got one in the Senate that is already tuning up for the potential for disaster. Water policy stuff. Read about it in that […]

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