Ahh, Montana. Your verdant forests. Your streams and rivers teeming with trout.
Your legislature teeming with fools and industry shills.
Meet SB 306 – the Cyanide Leach mining bill.
Montana’s voters have on several occasions voted overwhelmingly to support a ban on cyanide heap leach mining, but apparently, a few greedy mining companies know better, and have (again) resurrected legislation which would ease that ban.
The Button Valley Bugle site offers up some eye-opening background:
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 fiveâ€¦). 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 â€œthousands of yearsâ€.
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
The Bugle’s story goes on to profile one of the major players behind the mining bill: Newmont Mining.
This “environmentally friendly” mining company paid a substantial fine in 2009 for a sizable cyanide spill in Ghana, and goes on to detail the threats to places like the Upper Rock Creek drainage and the Blackfoot, which is already the victim of several disastrous mining projects.
This bill passed the senate last month (SB 306), and despite better than 3-1 opposition to this stinker in the House Natural Resources committee, it could easily pass.
Montana already enjoys the benefits of nearly 6000 abandoned mines (most of them the owners simply walked away from); why not create a few more?
SB 306 represents yet another attempt by Montana’s current nutjob legislature to undo what Montana’s voters have already happily done, and it’s worth at least a call or two.