History tells us to back I-186

By The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Voters should vote yes on Initiative 186 on this November’s ballot. At its essence, this measure will require future mining applications to include “measures sufficient to prevent the pollution of water without the need for perpetual treatment of water polluted by acid mine drainage or other contaminants.”

That’s not too much to ask.

There’s a long history behind this. Montana’s mining legacy is fraught with cases of miners leaving behind environmental messes to be cleaned up at taxpayer expense. A notorious and relatively recent example is that of Pegasus Gold’s Zortman-Landusky mines in northcentral Montana.

After mining gold for years, the company went bankrupt in the 1990s and abandoned the mines as they continued to seep toxic pollutants into area waters. A $47 million reclamation bond posted by the company to cover potential cleanup costs, along with an estimated $30 million in taxpayer funds, has been spent containing the mess . And the state continues to spend some $1.5 million a year treating the water draining from the mines. And there are many other examples.

Nobody, including miners, should be OK with that.

Mining industry officials oppose the measure and have said it will effectively mean the end of mining in this state. Evidence says otherwise. The states of Michigan and New Mexico have enacted similar measures and the mining industry continues to do business in those states. In New Mexico, a major mining state, the restrictions were enacted 25 years ago and the industry continues to thrive there.

And I-186 will not apply to any existing mines in this state.

This measure isn’t perfect. It calls for the state Legislature or the Department of Environmental Quality to provide definitions for the terms like “contaminants” and “perpetual treatment,” and that provides sufficient leeway for regulators to keep future mining application requirements reasonable and achievable. But it provides a new and badly needed layer of accountability for mining firms wishing to do business in the state.

It’s estimated this measure, if passed, will cost the state an additional $115,000-$120,000 a year in additional regulatory staffing to enforce it. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions of dollars the state is already spending cleaning up past mining messes.

Vote yes on I-186. It’s not too much to ask.

This article provided by NewsEdge.