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Montana Resources

From left, Montana Resources workers Dustin Moralez, Tony Kulaski, and Ryan Hall are seen busy at work last month. A new group calling themselves Stop I-186 to Protect Miners and Jobs formed Tuesday to try to stop an environmental measure gathering signatures around the state. 

A committee to stop an environmental initiative which mining industry officials say will end all new mining in Montana filed with the state Tuesday.

Calling itself Stop I-186 to Protect Miners and Jobs, the new committee is being headed up by Dave Galt, a Helena-based consultant who ran Montana Petroleum Association for 10 years.

“Yesterday’s filing is just the first step in our coalition’s effort to fight this attempt to shut down Montana mining," Galt said by email, adding that the group is "asking Montanans to vote no on I-186.”

Stop I-186 to Protect Miners and Jobs said through email that if I-186 passes, it would kill $42 million worth of annual tax revenue for the state.

"Mining plays an essential role in Montana's economy by supporting jobs and generating annual tax revenue for local communities. Regardless of the misleading message promoted by the activists behind this initiative, one thing is clear — the intent of I-186 is to ban mining in Montana," Galt said by email.

Initiative I-186 has already raised controversy in southwest Montana.

When the group that calls itself Yes for Responsible Mining submitted the initiative with the state for legal review a couple of months ago, the state determined that if voters passed the initiative in November, it would kill metal mining in Butte and Whitehall, ending 500 jobs. 

That would have left only one major metal mine, Stillwater Mining Company, south of Billings, in the state.

Yes for Responsible Mining, which is made up of a consortium of environmental groups, then submitted a revised initiative without removing the first one. The revised initiative added two sentences, but was otherwise exactly the same as the original measure.

That left mining industry officials suspicious that the environmental groups were not sincere in protecting current mining operations in southwest Montana.

When Yes for Responsible Mining realized the ire it had raised by these moves, the group’s leaders withdrew the original initiative. The one that is already gathering signatures in towns around the Treasure State insulates MR and Golden Sunlight from being affected if the initiative is passed.

Signature gatherers are expected to come to Butte. The largest city in southwest Montana got its start by white settlers as a mining camp in the 1860s. Mining has continued ever since in Butte with only two short-lived shutdowns. Mining is considered by many Butte residents to be a proud tradition.

Butte-based Montana Resources, which mines copper, molybdenum and a small amount of silver, provides around 19 percent of the county’s tax base. Only NorthWestern Energy supplies more.

Besides electrical wiring, copper is used in cell phones, computers, car engines and a host of other applications.

Molybdenum hardens steel and is most often used in construction.

Whitehall-based Golden Sunlight mines gold and despite the closure of its open pit mining in 2015, is still one of the largest employers in the Whitehall area. The Canadian-based Barrick Gold Corp.-owned mine kept going, virtually without interruption, by switching to underground mining in the area around the former open pit in early 2016. Golden Sunlight has been mining just northeast of Whitehall since 1981. 

Yes for Responsible Mining has until late June to gather around 25,000 signatures to get the measure before voters in November.

Yes for Responsible Mining says I-186 will protect Montana’s waterways and prevent mining disasters such as the former Pegasus Gold legacy mine Beal Mountain west of Butte. That former mine, which closed in the 2000s, is an open money pit for the U.S. Forest Service and threatens the multimillion-dollar cleanup of lower Silver Bow Creek.

Industry officials say mining has changed. "Nobody wants another Berkeley Pit or Pegasus Gold ever again," Tammy Johnson, executive director of Montana Mining Association previously told The Montana Standard.

Johnson and other industry officials say the language in I-186 is vague, will lead to endless lawsuits and would end all new mining in the Treasure State.

“It’s too prohibitive,” Johnson told The Standard last month. “It’s absolutely chilling. The permitting process is not easy today. We haven’t had a new mine constructed in this state since Stillwater in 1996. It’s not like it’s the Wild West.”

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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