Mine Reclamation Initiative Advances with New Language


April 9, 2018


David Brooks (MT Trout Unlimited Executive Director), 406-493-5384, david@montanatu.org

Mine Reclamation Initiative Advances with New Language

New Version Provides Clarity on Exemption for Existing Mines

HELENA – Sponsors of a citizens initiative addressing future mine pollution in Montana have withdrawn their original initiative filing and are advancing new language that clarifies that the measure exempts all existing mines.

This measure ensures future mine reclamation is done right so that Montana taxpayers and our clean water are protected, said David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. We understand the need to make sure we get this language right so that it is abundantly clear the measure exempts all existing mines including future operations at those mines.

The initiative would require permits for new mines to include a reclamation plan that will avoid the need for perpetual treatment of water contaminated by acid mine drainage or contaminants such as arsenic, lead and mercury. According to a 1995 report from Montana DEQ, Montana has 276 abandoned mines that present significant risk for water pollution. Trout Unlimited analysis of Montana DEQ and EPA data found that Montana has 9,380 miles of streams that are listed as impaired for heavy metals or acidity.

The proposed initiative seeks to prevent future problems and protect Montana taxpayers who have been saddled with the cleanup and treatment costs after mines close. Zortman Landusky Mine has cost taxpayers $26 million already with another $2-3 million each year for ongoing water treatment. At Beal Mine, over $13 million of taxpayer money has been spent for cleanup and ongoing water treatment.

Sponsors filed new language with the Montana Secretary of State last week after the fiscal note for a previous version of the measure flagged an issue with the exemption language. According to the fiscal note, the exemption could be interpreted as not applying to amendments to operating permits for existing mines. The same issue was noted in Legislative Services review of the proposed initiative. However, that March 20 letter from Legislative Service also stated, The plain language appears to exempt these amendments.

It was always our intent to exempt existing mines, and we believed the plain language was sufficient. But in response to the fiscal note we saw last week, we are being extra careful like wearing a belt plus suspenders, said Brooks.

That approach has worked, according to Legislative Services review of the latest language. An April 6 letter from Legislative Services states, The draft now clarifies that the initiative applies except in the case of a proposed amendment to an operating permit or reclamation plan pursuant to which a mine has been permitted on or before November 6, 2018.

Today, initiative sponsors filed their response to Legislative Services in a letter to the Montana Secretary of State. They also wrote the Montana Attorney General to withdraw the previous version of the initiative. The next step will be for the Montana Attorney General to conduct a review of the proposed ballot language to ensure it complies with the requirements of Montana law. That proposed ballot statement is:

I-xxx requires new hard-rock mines in Montana to have a reclamation plan that

provides clear and convincing evidence that the mine will not require the

perpetual treatment of water polluted by acid mine drainage or other contaminants

such as arsenic, lead, or mercury.

Once the ballot statement is finalized, the Montana Secretary of State will prepare the petition form and supporters may begin work to collect the required 25,468 valid signatures in order to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Refiling has delayed signatured gathering, and cost our effort additional money, but it was important that we get the language right, said Brooks. When Montanans vote YES on this initiative to hold mining companies accountable and protect our clean water, we want it to be perfectly clear that existing mines and their employees will not be affected.