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MT Testimony - Good Cops Needed for "Good" Mining Law

July 30, 2007

It's been 30 years since a federal law was put in place to try to limit environmental damage during coal strip mining projects. A Bull Mountain rancher has testified before a committee that it's a pretty good law, but it needs stronger enforcement. Ellen Pfister says the law isn't doing enough to protect limited water resources and quality in Montana, and repairs to damaged land aren't keeping up with the fast pace of coal mining projects.

"The question is how contemporaneous is the reclamation with the speed of mining. And they've fallen behind rather badly."

Pfister argues that a so-called longwall strip mine proposed under her land will remove the aquifer, which will mean a slow death of local water supplies and it possibly violates senior water rights. The strip law is getting scrutiny because of controversial mountain-top removal coal mining in other areas of the country.

Pfister adds that another problem is what should be done with the mining leftovers, and how to make sure any water left isn't contaminated in the process.

"They just dump the spoils right back in the pit regardless of whether there's water in there or not, and if there is, they make no attempt to insulate the water that comes into the pit."

The federal law is the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

Deborah Smith/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MT