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Ballot Initiative Would Hold Hard Rock Mines Responsible for Their Mess

The defunct Mike Horse Mine must be perpetually treated so that it doesn't pollute the nearby Blackfoot River. (Earthworks/Flickr)
The defunct Mike Horse Mine must be perpetually treated so that it doesn't pollute the nearby Blackfoot River. (Earthworks/Flickr)
September 4, 2018

HELENA, Mont. – Montana environmentalists and outdoor recreation businesses are looking to hold new hard rock mining companies accountable for the messes they make.

A measure on this November's ballot, Initiative 186, would require new hard rock mines to have detailed reclamation plans so that perpetual treatment of water pollution isn't necessary after the mine closes.

Numerous defunct mines in the past have left Montana and taxpayers on the hook for cleanup.

Montana Trout Unlimited is the primary backer of the coalition YES for Responsible Mining. The environmental group’s executive director, David Brooks, says the state can't properly regulate the mines as the law stands now.

"Our Department of Environmental Quality does not have this tool,” he points out. “We as a state cannot reject a mine permit simply because it's going to cause permanent water pollution and hence need expensive, long term or permanent water treatment."

Many state legislators have lined up against this measure, saying it will kill one of the state's largest economic drivers.

The Montana AFLCIO also opposes it, saying it will prevent more mining jobs from being created in the state.

Hard rock mining is the search for materials such as gold, silver and diamonds.

Brooks says it's important to note that it won't affect current mine operations or their future expansions. He says he understands that mining plays a vital role in the state's economy and that I-186 is not trying to kill the industry.

"This really continues to protect responsible mining in the state, and we all know that our current lifestyles depend on mining,” he stresses. “We just think that it needs to be done right and there needs to be the right balance struck between mining and healthy rivers."

I-186 also has gained the support of the outdoor recreation industry, which is now the largest sector of Montana's economy.

Brooks says the industry is backing this measure because outdoor recreation businesses rely on a clean environment.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT