Montana Mining Association looks to state Supreme Court to stop mining initiative

May 31, 2018

The Montana Mining Association is trying to stop an initiative that would halt the construction of any new mine that would require perpetual water treatment by arguing that the initiative should not be allowed on November’s ballot.

The argument put forth by the Montana Mining Association is that the proposed measure has an improper effective date. The group has asked the Montana Supreme Court to declare Initiative 186 (I-186) “legally insufficient” and stop any signature-gathering until the error is corrected.

The initiative, which has yet to qualify for the November ballot, would prohibit the permitting of any mine in Montana if its reclamation plan requires “perpetual treatment” of acid-mine drainage or other “contaminants” leaching from the mine site, Montana television station KTVH reported.

Those who support the initiative say it would drastically reduce pollution from mines, while those who oppose it say the language of the initiative is unclear and it could limit the creation of jobs.

The lawsuit is filed against the state attorney general, who determines whether ballot initiatives are legally sufficient, and the secretary of state, who certifies that initiatives can appear on the ballot.

The ballot initiative does not define terms such as "perpetual treatment," "perpetual leaching" and "contaminants." It leaves that up to either the Montana Legislature or the Department of Environmental Quality through the rulemaking process, the Independent Record reported.

The language of the initiative says it becomes effective "upon approval by the electorate." But the mining group argues a state law says any initiative that requires rulemaking by a state agency cannot become effective before the October following its approval.

Tammy Johnson, executive director of the Montana Mining Association, said that while her organization has spent more than $110,000 supporting a group working to defeat the initiative, the lawsuit is just about the effective date.

“That is our only request; it really is one of simple statutory construction,” Johnson said Wednesday. "The state of Montana has work to do and we need to give them time to do this before this is effective if passed by the voters. … This is a pretty straightforward request. It is not that we are trying to do anything other than change that effective date so that the rulemaking can occur so that the agency is able to implement this if it passes.”

Both sides of the issue are gearing up for an expensive battle over I-186.

In campaign reports filed last week, Yes for Responsible Mining, the group backing I-186, said it had raised $303,000 through mid-May and spent nearly $230,000 on a consulting firm coordinating the signature-gathering effort. About $160,000 of the funding has come from Trout Unlimited, both nationally and in-state.

Stop I-186 to Protect Miners and Jobs, the group formed to oppose the measure, reported raising $114,000, including $96,000 from the Mining Association and nearly $18,000 from Sandfire America, the developer of the proposed Black Butte copper mine near White Sulphur Springs.


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