HELENA — The Montana Supreme Court said Tuesday that it won’t block a proposed ballot initiative meant to keep mines from polluting the state but which industry leaders say would threaten the future of mining.
That means the sponsors who collected more than the 25,468 voter signatures required to place the initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot can turn them in to election officials by Friday’s deadline, said one of the organizers, Montana Trout Unlimited executive director David Brooks.
“We have far exceeded our ambitious goal of collecting more than the required number of signatures,” Brooks said.
The initiative would require all future mines to submit reclamation plans that don’t require the perpetual cleanup of polluted water after the mines close. Montana environmental officials would be required to reject any mining permit application that did not have such a reclamation plan.
The sponsors say the measure is needed after taxpayers have had to pay for past cleanups when closed mines continued to pollute state waterways.
Montana Mining Association officials say the initiative is vague and would allow environmental activists to sue to block any mines from opening in Montana. The association had asked the state Supreme Court to toss the initiative on a technical claim that the measure’s effective date conflicts with state law.
But the Supreme Court, in a 5-0 opinion, upheld Attorney General Tim Fox’s finding that the initiative is legally sufficient to place on the ballot. The justices wrote that the mining association’s argument falls outside of the scope of Fox’s pre-election review.
Rejected by the Supreme Court, opponents of the initiative plan to launch a public campaign to defeat the measure Wednesday in the mining town of Butte.
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