North Fork Bill Down, Not Dead - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

North Fork Bill Down, Not Dead

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KALISPELL -

Montana's Senators say they aren't giving up hope yet after just three Senators were able to prevent a vote on the North Fork Watershed Protection Act Thursday.

The bill that got stuck yesterday in the Senate says that the government can't lease North Fork land to companies who might try to set up a mine. More than 80% of the companies who had leases there chose to give up those rights already, and many of them have backed the bill. In fact, the entire Montana delegation is backing the North Fork's conservation.

It only took three Senators from Pennsylvania, Texas, and Oklahoma to slam on the brakes.

"We've got three Senators that live in states that probably couldn't point out where the North Fork is on a map if you asked them," said Senator Jon Tester.

They needed all 100 Senators to agree in this type of hotline vote.

"I feel pretty good actually that we picked up 97 out of 100 US Senators. That's an A+ where I went to school," said Michael Jamison with the National Parks Conservation Association.

The bill's failure to pass yesterday doesn't mean it's dead yet. There's a few options. Montana's Senators could go over and talk to the three no votes and try to convince them that this is a good thing.

If they can't get them on board, then they might try tacking the bill onto another that stands a good chance of passing, or lumping the bill into a group of bills that would all be voted on at once. Both of these ways need a majority vote to succeed and if the Senate won't cooperate, then it might be time to go directly to the Department of Agriculture. They have the power to lay down a rule along the lines of the bill, but it wouldn't have the same staying power.

"[Congressmen] often like to say they don't want people from thousands of miles away interfering in local decisions, and yet what did they do? They interfered from thousands of miles away in a local decision," said Jamison.

Whatever happens in Washington, Jamison is pretty confident that with all the support thrown behind the North Fork, drilling there is unlikely.

Congressman Steve Daines sponsored a similar bill that got through the House last month.

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