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MT Poll: Mining Laws Need to be Updated

October 27, 2008

Missoula, MT – Montana waterways need to be protected against mining pollution, mining companies need to pay for what they take, and they need to help pay for cleanup when they pollute. Those are the results of a poll released today in which Montanans were asked about updating the 1872 Mining Law that governs hardrock mining on federal public lands.

Bonnie Gestring with Earthworks, which commissioned the poll, says it's not surprising that support for water protection is so strong, given the legacy of mining pollution in Montana.

"There are about 2,000 miles of rivers and streams in Montana that are polluted from abandoned mines. It's time to generate revenue that can be used to clean up these old mines."

Other results show that 80 percent of those polled want the law updated to require mining companies to pay federal royalties on what they take, with some of that money going toward cleaning up existing --- and future -- pollution. An update to the law passed the U.S. House last year, but the proposal stalled in the Senate.

Those who oppose updating the 1872 Mining Law say the royalties proposed are too high. Hardrock mining companies currently pay no federal royalty for what they extract from public land.

Land Tawney with Sportsmen United for Sensible Mining, the other poll sponsor, says mining is part of the state's tradition, but times have changed since the law was enacted; mining is no longer done by individuals with pack mules and pickaxes.

"I think anybody who lives here in Montana really lives here because they have a deep connection with the outdoors. You know, we look at this law that hasn't been changed in 136 years, and it's about time that we update it."

The survey was conducted by the American Viewpoint; 600 "likely" Montana voters were polled last month.

Deborah Smith/Steve Powers, Public News Service - MT