- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - In a story June 1 about the Montana Water Policy Interim Committee’s first meeting of the biennium, The Associated Press reported erroneously that Republicans have a majority on the panel. The committee is split evenly between the parties with four Republicans and four Democrats.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Water panel eyes state’s role in new federal rule

Montana lawmakers eye state’s role in new clean-water rule from federal government

By ALISON NOON

Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Montana lawmakers are planning to consider whether state officials can issue permits required under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new clean-water rule.

Members of the Water Policy Interim Committee on Monday discussed giving priority to a study of state versus federal water jurisdiction in the wake of an executive order issued last week by President Barack Obama.

The panel of four Democrats and four Republicans also elected Democratic Sen. Bradley Hamlett of Cascade as its chairman and conferred on a work plan at the Legislature’s first interim meeting of the biennium.

The plan will include watching over the progress of a compact that aims to settle water-use rights on the Flathead Indian Reservation. That contentious issue was the primary focus of the committee last biennium, but it will take a backseat as the agreement goes to Congress for approval.

Hamlett, who sponsored the proposal to study water jurisdiction this year, said the federal rule conflicts with a section of the Montana Constitution that states all water within its boundaries are state property.

If enacted, the rule would work to protect streams, wetlands and other small bodies of water by initiating a federal permitting process if a business or landowner takes steps to pollute the water. “The Western states did not want this kind of impact to the water resources,” Hamlett said.

At least a dozen Montana agriculture, energy and business organizations have opposed the measure since it was proposed last year.

Outgoing Chair Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, said the water panel will look at offering local permitting resources for state residents impacted by the new rule. “Maybe there’s a way to weave (Montana’s) conservation districts into this if we’re going to have to take jurisprudence,” Vincent said.

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