Missoulian State Bureau Water quality is the issue

HELENA - If elected governor, Democrat Mark O'Keefe said he would strengthen and enforce state water-quality laws because Montanans have a constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

"We need stronger laws to enforce that right," he said.

As governor, O'Keefe said he would introduce legislation to restore water-quality standards to levels that were in place before the 1995 Legislature when the session passed laws to significantly weaken water-quality standards.

"The '95 Legislature argued that our clean water standards were holding back jobs," O'Keefe said in a press release. "So today we have some of the lowest water-quality standards in the West to go along with some of the lowest wages in the country. That's wrong. As governor, I will correct that situation."

O'Keefe said he would direct the state Department of Environmental Quality to strictly enforce and monitor compliance of water-quality standards and work with the Board of Environmental Review to ensure that laws and rules designed to keep Montana's waters clean are interpreted to mean precisely that: no further pollution in the state's waters.

"Before 1995, we had some of the strongest water-quality laws in the country," he said. "Now we have laws that allow more pollution in our groundwater, rivers and streams."

He said the 1995 Legislature changed water-quality laws to weaken by a factor of 1,000 arsenic risk-level standards in Montana water; made Montana clean-water laws reactive, not protective; allowed discharge of untreated groundwater into surface water without a permit; reclassified state waters to allow further pollution of marginal waters; and limited Montanans' participation in efforts to keep water clean when state authorities are considering discharge permits that threaten water quality.

"Montana's strongest assets for economic development are its clean environment and education system," O'Keefe said. "We need to protect our environment with strong water-quality laws."

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