Mining group asks Supreme Court to halt clean-water initiative ballot effort

Posted at 1:25 PM, May 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-30 15:25:58-04

Montana’s main mining lobby is asking the state Supreme Court to halt efforts to qualify a clean-water initiative for the November ballot, saying the proposed measure has an improper effective date.

The Montana Mining Association filed a petition late last Friday that asked the Montana Supreme Court to declare Initiative 186 “legally insufficient” and stop any signature-gathering until the error is corrected.

I-186, 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 Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups are behind the effort to gather enough signatures of registered voters to qualify I-186 for the ballot.

David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, told MTN News Wednesday that he’s confident I-186 supporters will get enough signatures by the June 22 deadline and that the legal action is “another effort on the part of these pro-pollution folks to keep this out of the hands of Montana voters.”

The mining association’s legal action says I-186 violates Montana law because it has an improper effective date. Until that date is corrected, the signature-gathering must be halted and all signatures gathered so far must be declared void, the filing said.

I-186 says the measure’s requirements will take effect “upon approval” by Montana voters.

The mining association says if the measure passes, it would require rule-making by the state Department of Environmental Quality or action by the Legislature to define “perpetual treatment” or “contamination.”

Under state law, any initiative requiring rule-making cannot take effect until Oct. 1 in the year following its approval, the petition said – and therefore, I-186 doesn’t follow state law.

“This has nothing to do with the initiative language itself,” said Tammy Johnson, executive director of the Montana Mining Association.

Brooks said he finds it interesting the mining interests say they can mine responsibly, but then are lining up to block and oppose an initiative that would require responsible mining.

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.