Montana’s I-186: The Mining Industry Perspective

Mike McGivern, of Montana Resources, presenting the mining perspective on I-186

“I-186 is bad law-making,” is how Mike McGivern, vice-president of human resources at Montana Resources of Butte, describes the ballot initiative that voters will be asked to decide this November.

McGivern was speaking at last week’s meeting of the Silverbow Kiwanis Club of Butte. Previously, Tom Reed, a spokesman for Trout Unlimited, one of the organizations backing the measure, addressed the club (see Butte Weekly of August 1, 2018).

McGivern presented positions of the Montana Mining Association and a coalition of groups opposed to I-186, a measure that would require that the Montana Department of Environmental Equality must require clear and convincing evidence that new mines would not cause perpetual water pollution problems before issuing a mining permit. Mark Thompson, president of Montana Resources, is the current president of the Montana Mining Association, and Montana Resources has taken a leading role in leading opposition to the initiative.

McGivern asserted, “We see I-186 as the death knell for the mining industry,” citing potential stumbling blocks in the mine permitting process.

McGivern acknowledged that past mining processes caused problems, especially the “disaster” caused by Pegasus Gold, the subsidiary of a foreign mining company that had operations at Beal Mountain, between Butte and Anaconda, and the Zortman-Landusky mine in northern Montana. When mining operations ceased, Pegasus declared bankruptcy and left Montana and Federal taxpayers stuck with the bill for remediation.

He points out, “Thirty laws have been passed since 1997 to remedy the situation, and our current water standards are better than Federal standards. The laws we have now are very stringent and the state has enforcement powers to back it up.”

He underlined the news release that came out last week about Montana Resources getting close to pumping water from the Berkeley Pit and extracting minerals and going through a cleaning process. “The water that finally gets discharged from the process will be better than our drinking water.”

He also said that the wording of I-186 has a lot of problems that would create  further litigation. The “clear and convincing evidence” standard in the initiative wording creates a requirement that is difficult to prove. “It’s trying to prove a negative,” he says, adding that cautious engineers seldom go out on a limb to say that nothing can ever happen, even if the possibility is remote.

McGivern pointed out the importance of the mining industry to Montana’s economy, that the mining industry provides 12,305 jobs in Montana, good-paying jobs with benefits, with an annual payroll of $1.154 billion, and annual tax revenues of $42 million.

There are currently three mining projects that are working their way through the permitting process, including the controversial copper mining project near White Sulfur Springs and the Smith River, and McGivern said that I-186 threatens all of them.

While proponents of I-186 say that current mining operations are not affected by the proposal, McGivern foresees that future permit applications would be threatened.

McGivern also said that financial support for I-186 has been mostly coming from out-of-state, especially eastern states. On the other hand, opposition to I-186 comes from not just mining companies, by 54 of Montana’s 56 counties, the AFL-CIO, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, and Montana Motor Carriers, among others.

More information on the mining industry’s position on the initiative can be found online at http://stopi186.com.

Obviously, if you compare positions and claims by the mining industry with those of the backers of the initiative, there’s a lot of disagreement. I’ll confess that my general inclination tends toward environmental positions, though in reporting on this presentation I hope I was successful in accurately reporting the mining association perspective.

Again, for the positions of the organizations backing I-186, their website is www.yeson186.org.

There are lots of opinions and positions to consider, as well as the many political races that will be decided, but if you want to be heard when it counts, make sure you’re registered to vote and then vote on November 6, whether at the polls or voting early with an absentee ballot. Your vote makes a difference.

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