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Clean Water Act “Loopholes” for Mining Affect Montana Tribes

PHOTO: A new National Wildlife Federation Report, "Honoring the River," calls for tribal lands protections during the renewed interest in the hardrock mining industry. This photo shows a Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes "river honoring." Photo credit: USFWS

PHOTO: A new National Wildlife Federation Report, "Honoring the River," calls for tribal lands protections during the renewed interest in the hardrock mining industry. This photo shows a Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes "river honoring." Photo credit: USFWS


April 26, 2013

POLSON, Mont. – High gold, silver and copper prices have led to renewed interest in hard rock mining, and a new report takes a look at what that would mean for tribal lands.

The study by the National Wildlife Federation examines two regulations in the Clean Water Act that exempt the industry from waste disposal oversight.

Rich Janssen heads the Department of Natural Resources at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. He points out that 40 percent of the headwaters in western watersheds have already been contaminated by metals mining, and the tribes are fighting two proposed silver mines near the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

"Further, these mines threaten our long-standing efforts to restore the endangered bull trout,” he says, “as well as our interest in preserving important cultural areas."

Foreign companies have proposed the two mines. The industry makes the case that newer mining methods reduce the risk of water pollution.

Report author and National Wildlife Federation senior attorney Tony Turrini says the metals are needed, and tightening regulations to protect tribal communities will not stop the mines.

"Tribes have been disproportionately impacted by mining pollution and the Clean Water Act loopholes,” he maintains. “National Wildlife Federation is calling on the Obama administration to protect all of our communities from the chemicals, heavy metals, and acid drainage produced by modern mines."

The report reviews the history of the Zortman-Landusky gold mine near the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, which has been called one of the nation's worst mining disasters.

Taxpayers and the two tribes on the reservation are still paying for cleanup.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT