Interior Secretary Continues to Divide Montana Delegation

By Beacon Staff

Members of Montana’s U.S. delegation rarely respond to each other’s press releases, but Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg did earlier this week after Democratic Sen. Jon Tester sent out an e-mail titled “Interior chief again debunks Montana monument rumors.”

Tester’s e-mail used another recent exchange he had with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to emphasize that there is no federal government plan to create new national monument designations in Montana.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today told Senator Jon Tester that there are no closed-door “backroom deals” to create national monuments in Montana.

During a hearing on Capitol Hill, Salazar said some people are “fanning the flames” of false rumors regarding proposed national monument designations in Montana. The false rumors were sparked by a recent Interior Department “brainstorming memo” that mentioned areas in Montana.

About two hours later, Rehberg, responding to comments “attributed to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, which were then distributed by Sen. Jon Tester,” said the following in his own press release:

Forgive me for continuing to be very skeptical of Washington bureaucrats who claim to know what’s best for Montana. If Secretary Salazar were sincere about his willingness to be open and transparent, he could settle the matter in an instant by releasing the document that his agency has decided to keep a secret. This includes the missing pages of the original memo and the more than 2,000 pages of emails and attachments referenced in the 300-pages that I have posted on my website.

While Salazar has emphasized since March that he has no plans to create national monuments in Western states, the Obama administration did have discussions with environmental groups about setting aside land in Montana. Salazar said any proposal would have faced public scrutiny.

The White House has since launched a nationwide listening tour to show that any new conservation agenda will be driven by local ideas. Critics, including Rehberg, said the meetings were in response to the bad publicity.