Controversial Environmental Initiative Gets Green Light From State

Source:   By: Susan Dunlap  May 4, 2018 Updated May 6, 2018

…Environmental groups are gearing up to get more than 25,000 signatures for a ballot measure, I-186, that they say will protect both taxpayers and Montana’s waterways.  Mining industry officials say that if the measure passes, it will lead to endless lawsuits and end all new mining investment in the Treasure State. 

The group called Yes for Responsible Mining had people on the streets in Missoula and Bozeman by 1:30 p.m. Thursday (May 3rd) gathering signatures to get their environmental initiative, I-186, on the ballot and before voters by November.

The consortium now consists of approximately 12 environmental organizations, including Missoula-based Trout Unlimited and the Helena-based Montana Environmental Information Center.  Yes for Responsible Mining has grown in recent weeks as more environmental groups have joined the effort. It needs over 25,468 signatures by June 22 to be able to take the issue to voters statewide.

Montana’s Secretary of State’s office gave approval to the group Thursday to begin that process.

The environmentalists wasted no time and say they will expand their efforts to gather signatures to Helena; Billings; Great Falls; Whitefish, and before it’s all over, Butte, where the initiative may prove to be unpopular.  The group angered many in the Mining City last month when Yes for Responsible Mining initially sent a measure, Initiative 12, to the Secretary of State’s office that could have effectively killed both Montana Resources and Golden Sunlight, causing a loss of 500 jobs across the southwest portion of the Treasure State.

One mining official said the initiative would have caused a “bloodbath” if its original version had gone through.

While the ire that Initiative 12 raised in southwest Montana caused the group to pull that measure, Yes for Responsible Mining didn’t do so before they created confusion for many in the mining industry.

Before killing Initiative 12, the environmentalists submitted Initiative 14 for the state’s review.  Initiative 14 insulated MR and Golden Sunlight, in nearby Whitehall, while focusing exclusively on setting up new rules for proposed mines yet to be permitted.

The environmentalists said at the time it was “very unlikely” Initiative 12 would be the measure to go before voters, but they were hedging their bets keeping both measures in play so they could move forward with Initiative 12 if Initiative 14 didn’t make it through the state’s review process in time…

Yes for Responsible Mining said that if it gets the signatures it needs and then wins over voters, the measure will protect both water quality and taxpayers by forcing new mines to show “clear and convincing evidence” that they will not create “in perpetuity” water quality issues.  The group frequently gives a nod to the now bankrupt Pegasus Gold Corporation, which left behind legacy mines that are a burden to both the state and federal government…

But mining officials, such as Tammy Johnson, executive director of the Montana Mining Association, calls the language in the initiative vague.  She said Thursday it will lead to endless lawsuits.

That will kill any future mining from ever occurring again in the state, she said.

She also said the measure is unnecessary.  She points to all the permitting required and the process mines go through with both federal agents as well as the state.  “It’s too prohibitive,” Johnson said.  “It’s absolutely chilling.”

Johnson said that since the Pegasus Gold debacle, the laws have been changed 11 times “to make sure DEQ has full authority.  Every mining operation is current on its bond and it’s substantial today.”…