Baucus & Tester praise agreement to retire Canadian oil and gas leases

Yesterday’s announcement of the commitment by The Nature Conservancy and Nature Conservancy Canada to provide funds to retire oil and gas leases in the Canadian Flathead is getting lots of coverage today. Here’s the official press release from U.S. Senators Max Baucus and John Tester . . .

February 15, 2011

***NEWS RELEASE***
BAUCUS, TESTER ANNOUNCE FORMAL COMMITMENT FROM BRITISH COLUMBIA TO PROTECT THE NORTH FORK THROUGH NEW LEGISLATION, EXISTING LEASE RETIREMENTS

Senators Praise Agreement to Retire Canadian Oil and Gas Leases at No Cost to American Taxpayers

(Washington, D.C.) – Montana’s U.S. senators U.S. Max Baucus and Jon Tester announced a formal commitment from British Columbia to pursue legislation that codifies North Fork protections on the Canadian side of the border today.  British Columbia signed the agreement in conjunction with an event in Washington today with Baucus, Tester, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer and representatives from The Nature Conservancy.

The commitment also includes an agreement between The Nature Conservancy and Nature Conservancy Canada to provide $9 million to retire existing oil and gas leases on the Canadian side of the border at no cost to American taxpayers.  Baucus and Tester have championed efforts to retire leases without using taxpayer dollars. To date, the Senators have secured the voluntary return of more than 200,000 acres of old oil and gas leases, or 80 percent of the total leased acreage on the American side of the border.

“Like anything else, protecting the North Fork requires hard work and cooperation. We’ve been working behind the scenes for months to secure this commitment that is 30 years in the making, and I’m thrilled our efforts to bring folks together have paid off,” Baucus said. “Today’s agreement will protect the North Fork on the Canadian side without asking American taxpayers to foot the bill, just like we’ve done successfully in Montana. And Canadian legislation that mirrors our bill here in the U.S. will help secure permanent protections for the Flathead economy.  I want to thank British Columbia for their commitment to preserving this vibrant tourist economy and for helping us keep Montana the last best place for generations to come.”

“This agreement is a testament to what happens when we work together to find solutions that don’t involve American taxpayer dollars,” said Tester, chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.  “A lot of folks worked hard to keep this special part of North America pristine for future generations of hunters, hikers, anglers and sightseers—and it will result in a stronger economy and jobs for Montana.”

“Our conservation challenges don’t stop at the border so it is important that our nations join together to protect our world’s natural resources and treasures, including the Flathead River Basin with its pristine lakes and alpine scenery,” said Secretary Salazar. “Completion of the agreement to protect the Basin from mining and energy development is not only an historic event, but also a wonderful celebration for the many people who are dedicated to coordinated, sustainable protection of this important watershed.  Many thanks are due Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana for their critical work over the years to protect the Basin.”

“We are thrilled and grateful that so many people came together to protect this extraordinary treasure. No great river is constrained by a border, and it took the cooperation and hard work from people of both our great nations to ensure that the Flathead remains as pristine as it is today. We simply couldn’t have achieved this enormous success without a long list of people, starting with Senators Baucus and Tester, Governor Schweitzer, Premiere Campbell, Secretary Salazar, Ambassador Doer and our partners at Nature Conservancy of Canada. Thanks to one and all,” said Kat Imhoff, the Montana director at The Nature Conservancy.

“Today’s announcement secures yet another chapter in this  30 year citizen’s effort to protect the irreplaceable North Fork wildlands. Many thanks to Senator Max Baucus, who has worked tirelessly to permanently keep these lands and waters pristine for generations to come, and Senator Tester, each of whom played an enormous role in getting us here today, and to Governor Schweitzer who built on their hard work,” said Tony Jewett, Vice President of the National Parks Conservation Association. “With the immediate threat of resource development now on the sidelines, both nations have a window of opportunity to put in place new agreements that will protect this globally significant area permanently.”

“We deeply appreciate the leadership shown by the Montana delegation with the reintroduction of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act.  Senators Baucus and Tester have worked tirelessly to ensure that future generations will enjoy the pristine waters and lands of the Flathead, including the world renowned Glacier National Park,” said Mark Turcek, president and CEO at The Nature Conservancy.

In June Baucus and Tester asked President Obama to press Prime Minister Harper on the importance of protecting the North Fork. The leaders spoke at the G-20 that month and pledged to cooperate.  Since then, Baucus and Tester have been working with Secretary Salazar, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Doer to build the agreement that led to today’s announcement.

The legislation announced today will formally codify the British Columbian North Fork protections adopted by executive order including: the Flathead Watershed Order (February 9, 2010), the No Disposition notice, the amended Mineral and Coal Land Reserve Regulations (Feb 9, 2010), and the amended Southern Rocky Mountain Management Plan (May 19, 2010).  Putting these protections into statute will ensure more permanent protections that cannot be overturned with leadership changes in British Columbia.  Baucus and Tester have been fighting to pass similar legislation to prevent future oil and gas development and mining on the U.S. side of the border without impeding the timber industry, hunting or fishing.

For the past 30 years, Baucus has been a steady and strong voice to protect the North Fork of the Flathead River, beginning with his successful 1975 proposal to designate the Flathead as a Wild and Scenic River.

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