BOZEMAN – Conservation groups can start gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that seeks to limit mine pollution in Montana.
The Secretary of State’s office on Thursday approved the language for Initiative 186, which would require state regulators to deny permits for new hard rock mines unless operators can provide “clear and convincing evidence” that reclamation work would not require the perpetual treatment of water polluted by mine waste.
A coalition of environmental groups called “Yes for Responsible Mining” need the signatures of more than 25,000 registered voters from around the state by June 21 for the measure to qualify for the November ballot.
“This ballot initiative reflects Montana’s values of responsibility and accountability,” said David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. The measure seeks to protect taxpayers from having to pay for unending water treatment because of bad mining practices and inadequate bonding, Brooks told The Montana Standard last month.
Tammy Johnson, executive director of the Montana Mining Association, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle said the mining industry is worried the measure will cost jobs and convince investors to look elsewhere. “I think the true intent is to shut down mining,” Johnson said.
If the measure passes, the Department of Environmental Quality would require mining companies to reclaim sites well enough to avoid the perpetual treatment of water contaminated by acid mine drainage or other pollutants.
The state estimated implementing the initiative would cost $115,360 in the first year and increase to nearly $119,000 in 2021. The estimates are based on increased staff time for environmental review and potential lawsuits challenging the rule.
The version of the ballot issue approved Thursday is the third draft. The original language was rejected by the Secretary of State.
The second version was withdrawn by the groups after the mining industry argued the language was vague and might affect the Montana Resources mine in Butte and the Golden Sunlight mine in Whitehall, which employ a combined 500 people. Both mines have plans to treat water forever. The initiative’s language was changed to make the initiative apply to new mines.
Johnson says mining interests will still campaign against the initiative.
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