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A sign on the Clark Fork River near Deer Lodge in 2009 warns the public about hazardous materials that polluted the river from mining and smelting operations in Butte and Anaconda. The Environmental Protection Agency has supervised multiple cleanup projects on the Clark Fork from Anaconda to Missoula.

State mining permits could be denied if polluted water requires perpetual treatment, under a ballot initiative submitted for review Wednesday.

Supporters filed paperwork with Secretary of State Corey Stapleton in preparation for signature gathering expected to begin next month. The language also faces a legal review from Attorney General Tim Fox.

The initiative would require mining companies seeking a new permit to submit reclamation plans that do not require perpetual treatment of water. Supporters cite cases in which taxpayers have been left with cleanup costs as evidence that Montana’s mining laws need strengthening.

“We feel like this is something that Montanans ought to decide on,” said David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. “There is an environmental side of this but also a taxpayer protection component, and addressing the need for forever treatment funded by state tax dollars.”

If passed, Montana’s mining reclamation law would add language for state regulators to consider.

“The reclamation plan must contain measures sufficient to prevent the pollution of water and the degradation of adjacent lands without the need for perpetual treatment,” the initiative says. “Perpetual treatment includes activities necessary to treat acid mine drainage or contaminants, including arsenic, mercury, and lead.”

Brooks says that state and national Trout Unlimited, the Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Park County Environmental Council have thrown support behind the initiative. Supporters estimate a $300,000 effort between media campaigns and signature gathering, he said.

A formal ballot committee has not yet formed but a Facebook page called Yes for Responsible Mining launched Tuesday.

“We feel really good about our chances,” he said. “It’s just a common sense change of the law. It doesn’t shut down mining or cost one job. It’s about new mines, how mining is done and disallowing forever pollution.”

In 2015, the Montana Mining Association and other mining interests opposed legislation that would have prohibited mining that included perpetual water treatment.

“The Montana Mining Association supports responsible resource development. Since the devil is often found in the details, we will be taking some time to fully understand the proposed ballot measure language and what it means for current and future mining in Montana," said Tammy Johnson, MMA executive director.

More than 25,000 valid voter signatures are needed by June 22 for the proposal to be placed on the November ballot.

The Associated Press Contributed to this story


Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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