HELENA, Montana — The U.S. House passed legislation Tuesday to prevent mining and oil and gas drilling on federal lands along the North Fork of the Flathead River. It now goes to the Senate, where it has the backing of Montana's Democratic senators.
The North Fork Watershed Protection Act sponsored by Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is a version of legislation by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus in 2010 and reintroduced in 2013 by Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester.
The bill would withdraw federal lands from mineral and geothermal leasing in the area west of Glacier National Park. Oil and gas companies already have voluntarily retired about 80 percent of the total leased acreage in the area, and Baucus previously said permanently protecting the land through legislation was a priority before he left the Senate.
Daines invoked Baucus in the floor debate before the House vote, saying Baucus began work to protect the watershed in 1974.
"I'm proud to be part of the effort to get it done and across the finish line," Daines said.
The bill's passage in the House will send a strong message to the Senate to approve it, he said.
U.S. Sen. John Walsh, who replaced Baucus when he was appointed as ambassador to China, is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.
Daines and Walsh are the likely general-election candidates for the now open U.S. Senate position in November's election.