No traction for mining bill in Montana

The Montana House of Representatives took the side of the hard rock mining industry when they voted to table a common-sense bill, HB 593, recently.

HB 593, introduced by Representative Nate McConnell (D-Missoula), would have required an independent audit of mining companies every 3 years. These audits would make sure the mining companies are following all the rules and state regulations and make sure their bond is up to date.

Second, it would have required a much higher reclamation bond for mines operating in sulfide ore bodies. These ore bodies, when exposed to air and water, create acid mine drainage, which is an extremely toxic and harmful to water and the environment. Treating and controlling acid mine drainage is usually required in perpetuity.

Montana has a scarred past of irresponsible modern mines. Zortman-Landusky, Beal Mountain, Montana Tunnels and Kendal mine just to name a few. Each one of these mines has had issues polluting groundwater, surface water, pipeline spills, tailings impoundment failures and much more. They also have another thing in common; they all went bankrupt and left Montana to clean up their mess.

This common sense bill would have held companies responsible to mess’s they create. As Rep. McConnell asked in committee, “We expect our kids to clean up after themselves, so why shouldn’t mine companies have to?” A big drive behind this bill for Rep. McConnell was the proposed copper mine that threatens the Smith River in Montana. “In every major mine in Montana that has run its course and closed, the reclamation bond has been inadequate, leaving taxpayers with the costs of cleaning up the mess,” McConnell said. “We can’t risk the catastrophic consequences another major mine could have on the Smith River or other natural treasures in our state.”

This bill was supported by conservation groups, environmental groups, landowners, business owners, outfitters, guides and environmental mining experts. The only opponents were representatives from the mining industry.

Unfortunately, HB 593 was tabled in committee. There was no debate or discussion.

However, Rep. McConnell was not deterred. He was determined to have this bill heard on the floor of the house and motioned to blast it out of committee and onto the floor to be debated. Though he was unable to get the 60 votes needed to move it onto the floor, we saw which legislators are serious about protecting Montana’s rivers and streams form the perpetual pollution these hard rock mines can cause, and which legislators would rather stand with an under regulated industry.

Trout Unlimited will continue to fight for hard rock mining reform in Montana to protect gems like our Smith River. Until that time comes, we must continue to put pressure on Governor Steve Bullock and his Department of Environmental Quality to not permit a mine on the headwaters of the Smith River. There is too much at stake.

By Shauna Stephenson. Shauna Stephenson has been a writer, photographer, communicator and conservationist for nearly two decades, the past decade being spent at Trout Unlimited, working on projects…