BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana U.S. Rep. Steve Daines said Friday that lawsuits from environmentalists and other barriers are dampening development of the state's natural resources and need to be curtailed.
Daines made the comments after meeting with representatives of Arch Coal, Inc. at the company's office in Billings, as he wrapped up a two-week tour of the state focused on its natural resource potential.
The first-term Republican signaled his strong backing for Arch's proposed Otter Creek mine south of Ashland, which would create an estimated 300 jobs. He also voiced support for proposed coal export terminals on the West Coast that could offset declines in domestic coal use.
Those ports have been fiercely opposed by environmentalists, and have drawn questions from West Coast lawmakers concerned over the prospect of huge amounts of coal coming through their states.
Daines offered scant details on how he could move such projects forward except to say he'll be talking with fellow lawmakers in Washington, D.C., about how to streamline reviews by federal regulators and reduce the number of lawsuits.
"It's going to take some coordinated effort on the federal level to do the environmental studies to get these projects approved, so I'm going to continue to be an advocate for Montana," he said.
After an announcement last week that he's sponsoring a bill to protect the North Fork Flathead River watershed in northwest Montana along the Canada border, Friday's comments put Daines squarely in the camp of business interests advocating for more development elsewhere in the state.
That stance is in line with the policies of Daines' predecessor, Republican Denny Rehberg, who lost a November bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Daines said more public lands should be opened to logging, and that it was frustrating that many Montana communities suffered from poor air quality last year due to wildfires that charred huge expanses of U.S. Forest Service land — even as access to those lands for timber harvests is restricted.
Yet Daines, a former technology executive from Bozeman, insisted development can be done in a responsible way that preserves the state's natural heritage.
"Montanans want the ability to remain in this state with jobs and our natural resources are an important provider for that," he said. "They also want to be able to able to enjoy the outdoors and the quality of life. I think we can do both."