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You see, back in 2006 Montana had this good idea that you shouldn’t be allowed to screw up the water that flowed to your neighbor before he got his chance to use it. So, they wrote a simple rule; “For all state waters, existing and anticipated uses and the water quality necessary to protect those uses must be maintained and protected.” It’s called the “Nondegradation of Water Quality” rule. Sounds good, we all want to be good neighbors. All it said was that you shouldn’t be allowed to cause degradation of the waters of your downstream friends. Montana showed the proposed rule to EPA and EPA said, “Hey, it’s your water. We don’t blame you for wanting to protect it so, just go on ahead.” We ran it by the state court and Judge Jones said we were good to go.

Well, some neighbors to the south, in Wyoming, named Marathon Oil, Anadarko Petroleum and Devon Energy got to thinking and they discovered that there really was no way they could drill for coal bed methane without screwing up somebody’s water. They have to pump out millions of gallons of salty water from more than 30,000 wells. It would cost money for them to treat the water before they pour it out on the ground or if they had to reinject it into the earth. So, they sued Montana and the EPA in federal court. After all, it’s not their fault if pollution flows downhill. The Wyoming Congressional delegation wrote a nice note to the Montana Board of Environmental Review claiming that we were trying to gut the Wyoming economy even though the internal state rule could have no legal application in Wyoming. Montana BER responded that Montana needed such regulation. “Montana’s nondegradation policy will be critical to protect the existing water quality of rivers such as the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone, Rock Creek, Stillwater River, Flathead River, and the pristine streams of Park County if methane development occurs in these watersheds.” “Irrigation districts, conservation groups, ranchers and others had petitioned the board to toughen the water standards, arguing that they should not have to accept lesser-quality water because of the coal-bed methane industry.” Wyoming was having none of it “arguing that the new regulations would increase natural gas costs to the nation and harm Wyoming’s coal-bed methane production. The letter also claimed that the new rules would provide no significant environmental benefit.” At least to Wyoming.

Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer, in Cheyenne, Wyoming said that nondegredation was a pretty good rule, but it needs lots more legal mumbo jumbo. The rule is just too simple. There is no way for a good attorney to misinterpret the rule. It also needs lots and lots of unintelligible science to back it up. After all, not just anybody can recognize stinky, salty, polluted water. So, he overruled Judge Jones and sent the process back to the EPA. Governor Schweitzer supposes that EPA will figure out how to make the rules work for Montana without pissing off Wyoming too bad. In the meantime, the rules will still apply within Montana, just not to water flowing across the border. Sometimes, being a good neighbor is just plain hard work.


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