Missoulian: Tester says jobs No. 1 priority when Congress reconvenes

Jobs top Sen. Jon Tester’s priority list as he looks toward the start of the 2012 congressional year.

Returning military veterans need work, and their health needs will create opportunities for others as well, said Tester, D-Mont. Small companies need help developing business plans and connecting with markets. And Montana’s forest industry needs to confirm a supply of timber so it can collaborate on projects that improve recreation and forest health, the first-term Democrat said during an interview at the Missoulian on Wednesday.

“My focus is on creating jobs here,” Tester said. “That’s why I put the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act forward – it will help.”

While the state sees a boom in energy jobs in the oil and gas fields along the North Dakota border, Tester said the western half of the state must not neglect its sawmills and loggers. The forest jobs bill was a compromise between mill owners and conservationists that would designate about 1 million acres of new wilderness and recreation areas while mandating 10,000 acres a year of logging and forest thinning on three national forests.

Tester was able to attach his bill to last December’s Senate Interior Appropriations legislation. But it was stripped out in negotiations with House Republican leaders. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who’s running against Tester for the Senate seat, claimed credit for blocking the measure.

“It was very unfortunate what happened at the end of the year,” Tester said. “Denny Rehberg made it clear that he’d do his best not to allow a vote on it. We haven’t had a wilderness designation in 30 years, and the jobs that can be created by this bill are tremendous. We’ll keep fighting until we can get it passed.”

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