The Smith River, A Ballot Initiative and Hope
A few years ago, I was standing in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Inside the Cathedral people from around the globe paid homage to 800-year-old edifice. I wanted to thank all the stewards of the Cathedral for last eight centuries that were allowing me my moment to bear witness to something so spiritual, sacred and beautiful. I feel the same way about Montana’s Smith River. A river so magical and beautiful that to jeopardize it isn’t a crime but a sin.
The following describes our efforts as stewards of the Smith River to preserve the integrity and beauty of one of the great rivers on the planet.
YES for Responsible Mining Protect Taxpayers and Clean Water:
This initiative is simple. It’s about protecting clean water, public health and Montana taxpayers from perpetual mine pollution. Water is a scarce and precious resource. Yet, certain types of mines can result in severe water pollution that continues for hundred to thousands of years – saddling Montanans with public health risks and the financial liability for long-term water treatment. We aim to have an initiative on the November 2018 ballot which would allow Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to reject mines that plan to pollute Montana Waters forever. This initiative amends the State’s mining laws to require a mine to demonstrate that it can be reclaimed without the need for perpetual water treatment. It gives DEQ the necessary tools to protect Montana taxpayers, future generations and out clean water, while allowing for responsible mineral development.
1. Perpetual pollution has contaminated drinking water aquifers, created long-standing public health risks, and destroyed fish and wildlife habitat.
– Acid mine drainage from the Zortman Landusky Mine in north central Montana has polluted a dozen tributaries in the Little Rocky Mountains – harming fish, drinking water uses, recreation and agricultural uses.1
– Acid mine drainage from the Berkeley Pit Mine in Butte – one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites – has polluted the city’s aquifer. The pit contains 43 billion gallons of highly acidic water contaminated with arsenic and lead.
2 It must be treated in perpetuity to prevent the water from reaching a critical level and discharging into the upper Clark Fork River.
– At the Beal Mountain Mine near Anaconda, selenium pollutions from the mine threatens a popular native Westslope Cutthroat trout stream – requiring lasting water treatment.
– At the Mike Horse Mine in the upper Blackfoot River Valley, acid mine drainage has caused lasting harm to this beloved river and iconic trout stream. Approximately 26 million gallons of acid mine drainage must be captured and treated every year.3
2. Montanans have already been saddled with perpetual water treament costs – often from foreign owned mining companies.
Pegasus Gold, a foreign mining company, left Montanans with enormous clean-up costs at the Zortman Landusky and Beals mines. At Zortman, $26 million in public funds has already been spent , with no end in sight for ongoing water treament costs of $2-3 million a year.4 At Beal, roughly $13.7 million in public funds has been spent for clean-up and ongoing water treatment.
3. Many of Montana’s last best places are at risk.
Certain types of mines – those that contain sulfide minerals – present the greatest risk for perpetual pollution because they are at high risk for developing acid mine drainage. These types of deposits are found in some of Montana’s last best places – the Smith River, Blackfoot River, and Paradise Valley near Yellowstone National Park.
4. This initiative holds corporations accountable. Companies must demonstrate that they can mine responsibly, without generating perpetual pollution.
It’s bad public policy to permit mines that will generate water pollution for generations – long after the likely life of the mining company. There is no way to ensure that reclamation bonds will cover the cost of water treatment in perpetuity. No one can predict what water treatment costs will be 50-100 years in the future, or if economic conditions will generate a return on investment, or even if the institution that holds the bond will be in existence. There have been five major mining company bankruptcies in Montana, including Pegasus Gold, W.R. Grace, Asarco, Canyon Resources and Atna. In every case, the reclamation bonds were insufficient to cover the full cost of clean-up and long-term water treatment. 5
5. Other mining states have implemented similar policies against perpetual pollution, including New Mexico, Michigan and Maine.6
1 Montana DEQ. 2012 Landusky Metals Total Maximum Daily Loads and Framework Water Quality Restorations Plan. Helena, MT: Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality.
4 Funding summary of Zortman Landusky expenses from 1999-August 2014, provided by Tom Livers, MTD-EQ. Plus, update of 2015 and 2016 costs from Warren McCullough, DEQ on January 25, 2017.
5 Flathead Beacon, “EPA cleanup plan leaves some asbestos in Libby” May 13, 2015. Great Falls Tribute – DEQ Seeks Gold Mine Cleanup Funds Via Bankruptcy Court
6 2006 New Mexico Statutes – Section 69-36-12; State of Michigan – Section 425.209; State of Maine – Section 076-096.
Send Contributions for the Montana Ballot Initiative to:
Yes for Responsible Mining
Great Falls, Montana 59401
Please include your full name, address, occupation and employer name.
*Note this contribution is not tax deductible.