Candidates vow active role for state on resource issues

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill insists that if elected he will weigh in through “every conceivable avenue” on natural resource matters on state as well as federal lands.

Hill and his running mate, state Sen. Jon Sonju of Kalispell, spoke and took questions Friday at the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce.

The discussion largely focused on the state having a more active role with federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service to encourage more timber harvesting.

As lieutenant governor, Sonju would be tapped to lead the Office of Economic Development with an emphasis on working with federal agencies to influence policies and regulations that have an impact in Montana.

Hill said he envisions a collaborative role for the state in opposing bad policies and supporting beneficial policies. He recalls how a citizens advisory committee was appointed to guide Glacier National Park on the best ways to rehabilitate Going-to-the-Sun Road, and now most of that project is complete.

“That’s the model we want to build from in terms of federal land management,” he said, also noting that “we don’t see collaboration as war.”

However, Hill did say that when environmental groups sue to stop logging projects, perhaps the state should support the Forest Service in court.

“We believe the state of Montana ought to have a voice in this litigation,” he said.

Sonju said state agencies would be deployed to “fight the bad science” that can arise, and to bring to light the economic impacts or benefits of federal policies and regulations.

Pat Tabor, owner of Swan Mountain Outfitters, said he has several types of businesses that operate on state and federal lands that are affected by onerous and costly regulations and policies.

As an example, he said the National Park Service is considering a regulation that would increase required liability insurance for his outfitting operation in Glacier National Park from $3 million to $5 million.

“My premium would probably exceed my payroll,” he said, adding that it is such a burdensome cost increase that it can’t be passed on to customers. “You can’t charge $700 for a trail ride.”

Hill said that is the type of policy change that his administration would staunchly resist.

Hill said resource development should be advocated through legal, political and administrative means.

“We think there is an attitude change that has to occur at the state level,” he said.

Tort reform should be a priority for the Legislature to create a more business-friendly environment in Montana for all sectors of the economy.

He noted that Montana has the fourth-highest auto insurance costs in the country, and that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rates Montana 43rd in the nation in terms of its legal climate.

“The trial lawyers and the environmentalists have the Montana they want, and we need to change that,” he said.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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