Update 03/26/2011: No big surprise here, but the House Natural Resources Committee passed HB-306 to the House on a party-line vote of 10-5 yesterday. The bill will likely pass the GOP controlled House and move on to hopefully be vetoed by Governor Schweitzer. Let your legislators know your feelings about this nasty bill before they vote and you might drop an note to the Gov. and support his veto of the bill.
The taxpayers of Montana are currently dealing with more than 6,000 abandoned mines in the Treasure State. These are not nicely reclaimed hillsides where problems have been rectified. These are old holes in the ground that the mining companies just walked away from once they pocketed the profits. We have over 300 mine and mill sites on our priority list to deal with. We have paid for the reclamation of 1174 acres in 50 0f our 56 counties. Since 1980, the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Bureau of DEQ has dealt with 408 coal mine cleanups and 38 hardrock mines in 43 counties.
In 1998, Montana voters decided to ban one of the most egregious pollution hazards, cyanide heap leach ore extraction. Under this method, cyanide is sprayed over tons of crushed ore and allowed to soak for months to extract gold and other metals from the rock. Sometimes the cyanide escapes the containment. In 2004, the mining industry funded the passage of an initiative to repeal the voter-approved ban. That measure failed so, the industry sued. The suit failed in the Montana Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court elected to not hear the appeal.
That brings us to round three (or four or five…). Huge mining corporations are again pushing another end run around the wishes of Montana voters with SB-306 in the Legislature. The new measure would allow mines to continue to use cyanide heap leach methods at existing mines around the state, but mainly at the Golden Sunlight mine near Whitehall (which just happens to be in the district of bill sponsor Senator Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell). Mine owners claim that they are losing revenue due to the cyanide ban even though mining employment is up since the ban. They claim that they know better how to control the cyanide now and won’t allow massive pollution mistakes like Zortman-Landusky where a spill of 5 million gallons of cyanide-laced water following the bankruptcy of Pegasus Gold, has polluted water supplies on the Fort Belknap Reservation. Government regulators reported that water leaking from the mine will have to be treated for “thousands of years”.
In a study of how well hardrock mining companies are able to predict the amount of pollution that their mines will produce prior to beginning operations, Earthworks found that,
- 100 percent of mines predicted compliance with water quality standards before operations began (assuming pre-operations water quality was in compliance).
- 76 percent of mines studied in detail exceeded water quality standards due to mining activity.
- Mitigation measures predicted to prevent water quality exceedances failed at 64 percent of the mines studied in detail.
One of the largest hardrock mining companies in the world, Newmont Mining based in Denver has continuing problems containing the poison. You remember Newmont, they bought the new scoreboard for Montana Tech last year and are regular contributors to the College of Mines. Their new environmentally-responsible approach will cost the company millions in fines for a recent cyanide spill in Ghana.
Ghanaian authorities are fining Denver-based Newmont Mining millions of dollars for negligently spilling cyanide at its Ahafo gold mine in October 2009, resulting in water contamination and fish kills. A Ghanaian Ministerial Panel that evaluated the spill and its aftermath recommended that the company be fined US$ 4.9 million for failing to prevent the spill or to properly report on and investigate the spill.
These are the new “environmentally friendly” mining conglomerates who are behind SB-306. If the bill passes, it will allow for a giant new open pit gold mine in the headwaters of Rock Creek upstream from Missoula and likely lead to the reopening of the 7-Up Pete project in the upper Blackfoot. The Blackfoot was already home to one of our state’s worst mining disasters for which we are still paying millions of dollars today;
In June 1975, at the peak of the spring runoff, the Mike Horse Dam, itself partly constructed of tailings, blew out, washing 100,000 tons of fine-grain tailings—laced with silver, gold, zinc, lead, cadmium, iron, copper and arsenic—into Beartrap Creek and the upper Blackfoot River, devastating fish and other aquatic life for miles.
The measure passed the Senate last month. In the hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee yesterday, opponents of the bill outnumbered proponents three to one, but still they don’t listen. If SB-306 is able to thwart the will of Montana voters you can expect to see this whole sorry episode replayed in slow motion on the streams of Montana. Please contact your House member today and let them know that we stand by our vote to remove this ecological nightmare from our state. No Means No!
Call the Legislative Session Desk at 406-444-4800 to leave a message for your representative or use the online message form to let our legislators know that we meant what we said about cyanide the first three times.