After reading David Brooks’ recent editorial, one thing is clear as a mountain stream: Propaganda will be the chosen vehicle in which Brooks and his supporters deliver Initiative 186 (I-186) to Montana in November. I suppose propaganda is expected in the support or opposition of any ballot initiative. However, the citizens of Montana deserve to be informed with a little more respectful and honest dialogue. I offer the following for consideration, provided from my personal and professional context:
• As an environmental scientist and educator, I can tell you it is true that mines like the Berkeley Pit, the Mike Horse near Lincoln and the few Pegasus legacy mines are environmental messes costing millions each year. It’s true that thousands of smaller-scale abandoned mines will require cleanup. It is also true that none of these former mines would be possible under Montana’s existing regulations and mindsets. It is true that these big mines were under bonded or not bonded at all. The money spent on cleanup at places like Beal Mountain and Zortman-Landusky primarily comes from taxes paid by mining and petroleum — not Montana citizens. Today’s bonding is much improved and attentive to changes in standards and cleanup costs. Likewise, Montana mining has proactively added new regulations to further insure environmental responsibility.
• As an environmental consultant for government and industry, I can tell you that Montana’s existing water quality laws adequately ensure clean, cold water continues to flow in our stream and rivers. These laws strictly govern the levels of every contaminant from arsenic and copper to sediment and nitrogen. These laws apply to mines and they also apply to agriculture, refineries and even to our cities, which operate landfills and water treatment plants. None of the mines currently operating in Montana are polluting our waters. Nobody has a “free rein to pollute.” No reasonable person would contend otherwise.
• As a former government official in a hard rock mining county, I can tell you that mining provides measurable positive economic impacts. In Butte-Silver Bow alone, Montana Resources employs over 350 workers, supports hundreds of indirect jobs at other Montana businesses and pays millions of dollars into state and local tax coffers. The families of its workers and those businesses supported by mining fill our schools, shop in our stores, and work in other businesses across the state. They spend money supporting the outdoor industry, and they fish and recreate in our streams, lakes, rivers and forests.
• As a committed conservationist and avid sportsman, I can tell you Montana is a very special place. It remains so because of the laws referenced above, but also because of the cooperation amongst our citizens committed to working and living together. We work hard and are lucky to enjoy a fine-tuned and ever-improving balance between the enjoyment and protection of our natural resources and responsible development.
• As an experienced negotiator and participant in consensus-based decision making, I can tell you there has been little to no cooperation with the mining industry or state or local government; no consensus has been sought nor reached among Montana’s diverse stakeholders in the drafting or advancement of I-186. As a result, our own state government has declared some the initiative’s key language “ambiguous” and needing definition. If passed, the initiative would require significant legislative and/or government action to address its shortcomings.
In closing, I would urge all Montanans to continue to work together. We need to strive for something better than what is promised with the passage of I-186. What is it? It’s the Montana that we already know and enjoy — clean, clear skies and blue-ribbon waters, healthy forests and landscapes and a diversity of economy which affords the majority a decent living and enjoyment of a quality of life second to none. Let’s keep Montana’s balance. Vote NO on I-186.