In our last alert we explained why Montana Trout Unlimited supports a ballot initiative filed with the Montana Attorney General’s office that will allow Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to reject mines that plan to pollute Montana waters forever. We supported the original language of the initiative with the understanding that currently permitted mines would be exempt from this regulation. The initiative intends to amend the state’s mining laws to require a new mine to demonstrate that it can be reclaimed without the need for perpetual water treatment. It gives DEQ the necessary tools to protect Montana taxpayers, future generations and our clean water, while allowing for responsible mineral development.
Why is this initiative important?
According to a 1995 report from Montana DEQ, Montana has 276 abandoned mines that present significant risk for water pollution. Trout Unlimited analysis of Montana DEQ and EPA data found that Montana has 9,380 miles of streams that are listed as impaired for heavy metals or acidity.
This initiative seeks to prevent future problems and protect Montana taxpayers who have been saddled with the cleanup and treatment costs after mines close. Zortman Landusky Mine has cost taxpayers $26 million already with another $2-3 million each year for ongoing water treatment. At Beal MountainMine, taxpayers have already shelled out over $13 million for clean up and they continue to pick up the bill for ongoing water treatment.
Concerns from the mining industry and modified language
On April 8, 2018 the Montana Standard ran an editorial that asserted the ballot initiative, as proposed, would spell the end to operations by Montana Resources in Butte and Golden Sunlight Mine near Cardwell. Montana Resources also warned its employees that they would be out of a job if the initiative passed. It has been our position that the ballot initiative language clearly excludes currently permitted mines.
In an effort to clarify, modified ballot initiative language has been submitted and is going through the approval process. We want to ensure that when Montanans vote ‘Yes’ on this initiative to hold mining companies accountable and protect our clean water, it is perfectly clear that existing mines and their employees will not be affected.