Ballot initiative looks to tighten mining regulations

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Photo courtesy of Shelby DeMars

“STOP I-186” Executive Director Dave Galt delivers a speech in Butte last Wednesday during a rally at Montana Tech.

Yellowstone Newspapers photo by Charlie Denison

Trout Unlimited Snowy Mountain Chapter President Mike Chapman shows his support for I-186.

A newly proposed ballot initiative has opened a debate between conservationists and supporters of the mining industry.

The initiative, I-186, is written to essentially “protect Montana taxpayers and clean water,” according to Mike Chapman, president of the Trout Unlimited Snowy Mountain Chapter.

“Do you drink water? Do you pay taxes? If you do, you’re for this bill,” Chapman said.

Supporters of I-186 hope to accomplish the goal of protecting clean water by creating a new reclamation for mining companies that “contains measures sufficient to prevent the pollution of water without the need for perpetual treatment.”

According to the initiative, “perpetual treatment” includes activities necessary to treat acid mine drainage or perpetual leaching of contaminants, including arsenic, mercury and lead.

The initiative also amends the reasons why the Department of Environmental Quality can deny a permit.

“I-186 strengthens the permitting language so the mining company has to show clear and convincing evidence the mine will not require perpetual treatment,” Chapman said.

Stop I-186 Executive Director Dave Galt, however, is opposed to such an initiative.

“I think this will effectively preclude any new mines from opening in Montana,” said Galt, a Lewistown native and former Montana Petroleum Association executive director. “I also believe this creates a shroud of uncertainty for existing mines. If they are going to put in for a mining plan operations change,an oran expansion, it’s unclear how that will be handled.”

Galt is also confused as to what the initiative means by “contaminant.”

“Contaminants aren’t defined in the initiative,” he said. “They could be anything. We also don’t know what ‘perpetual leaching’ means.”

Furthermore, Galt said it’s already hard enough for mines to get the permitting they need.

“We’ve got mines now that are trying to get permitted that have been in the permitting stage for 20 years,” he said. “I’m concerned this will add expense to the mining permit process, which is already extensive, and Montana won’t have another mine.”

Chapman, however, says the initiative is not an “antimining initiative” but a precautionary measure hoping to prevent issues caused by toxic pollution from mines such as Beal Mountain, Kendall, Basin Creek and Zortman Landusky.

According to the “Yes for responsible mining” campaign, toxic pollution from hard rock mines “contaminates rivers, lakes and streams while threatening public health through drinking water.”

If the water is threatened, Chapman said, recreation and tourism could suffer, as well as the quality of life enjoyed by Montanans in the affected areas.

“If we don’t stop polluting the water people come here for, people won’t come here,” Chapman said.

Such a “toxic mess” is also unfair for Montana taxpayers, Chapman added, as they are the ones who have to pay for the cleanup.

“Zortman Landusky ceased their operation in 1998, and the cleanup has cost taxpayers $27.5 million,” Chapman said. “That’s $1.2 million a year with no end in sight.”

Chapman said he and others involved with “Yes for responsible mining” are concerned the proposed Black Butte Copper Mine near the Smith River in Meagher County could result in similar contamination.

“There’s nothing in the current permitting language that makes me feel what happened at other mines won’t happen with Black Butte,” Chapman said.

Galt disagrees, as the “Stop I-186” campaign states those involved with mining and mine permitting “have learned from the past and are progressively advancing.”

More regulations strikes Galt as excessive.

“There is already extensive mining regulation, and we think I-186 is more regulation that’s not needed,” he said.

Montana, Galt added, has a long history of mining, and he’d like to see it continue

“The mining industry has created thousands of jobs over generations, keeping families in our state,” Galt said. “Every year, the industry delivers an average of $42 million in state and local tax revenue, often for lower-income, povertystricken areas already suffering from a lack of good jobs.”

There are three mines going through regulations right now, Galt said, and I-186 could jeopardize their operations.

“Think about this ballot issue and understand completely what it does before you vote on it,” said Galt.

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