The bill (H.R. 4606), which cleared the House by 286-10, was sponsored by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), whose term expires at the end of the year, and was supported by Montana Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester. It allows maintenance work on a 3 1/2-mile section of pipeline, which was built in the 1950s, that runs through Glacier National Park lands. It is part of an 118-mile pipeline system that serves about 25,000 people and runs parallel to U.S. Highway 2 along Glacier’s southern boundary.
The pipeline is owned and operated by NorthWestern Energy, but the NPS does not have the power to issue a permit to the company for upgrading and maintaining the gas pipeline. NPS may issue permits for electricity and communication lines, but legislation was needed to issue permits for gas lines. Montana-based NorthWestern Energy is an investor-owned utility and is one the largest providers of electricity and gas in the Northwest.
Conservation groups, Glacier Park officials and the NPS backed the legislation after receiving assurances from NorthWestern Energy — including changes to the proposed bill — that the scope of the historic easement would not be expanded without an in-depth assessment of its environmental impacts, Montana’s Helena Independent Record reported.
Michael Jamison, who directs the National Parks Conservation Association’s Glacier Field Office, said the nonprofit group has been closely involved with the legislation since May, and has worked with Rehberg, as well as Baucus and Tester, to ensure it would not be used to sidestep environmental safeguards. “We’re supportive of the legislation and have been since acquiring assurances that the scope of the historic easement would not be expanded.
“We thought it was important that the community and the Glacier National Park headquarters area continued to receive a supply of energy that they have come to rely upon.”
Jamison said the NPCA has no immediate objection to future expansion, so long as the project goes through the normal review channels set forth in the National Environmental Policy Act. A companion bill sponsored by Tester passed the Senate Natural Resources Commission in July and is expected to clear the Senate within a few days.
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