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Our state motto is oro y plata. It translates as gold and silver, and signifies the importance of metal mining in Montana at the time of statehood. Mining was the industry that brought workers and their families to places like Butte from around the world. The riches under Montana soil made a few of those men wealthy.

Mining is part of Montana’s heritage, but if mining is going be part of our future, we have to update our state mining laws to represent our Montana values.

With citizen’s initiative I-186, Trout Unlimited and our partners in “Yes for Responsible Mining” are working to support mining while also ensuring that the citizens of Montana have a say in protecting our water. It requires mining companies applying for new permits to provide proof up front that they will not leave behind a mess of perpetual pollution for the state and taxpayers to clean up.

Trout Unlimited depends on the strength of our members. Like other hook-and-bullet and conservation groups across the West, we proudly represent a broad cross-section of Americans, both conservative and liberal. Our diehard supporters and staff include ranchers and miners and guides and accountants and government officials and small business owners. We are a diverse group, but we all agree that trout, and the cold, clean water that trout rely on, are worth protecting. Because of our diverse makeup, we focus on cutting through the partisan noise and doing good things for fish and clean water.

In that spirit, TU and other I-186 supporters reached out to Montana mining companies early this spring to find a way to mutually promise Montanans a future with clean water. However, it became clear industry had no intention of reigning in their free pass to pollute our waters. They ended up telling us no deal.

Trout Unlimited has a long history of working with mining companies across the West.

In Idaho, TU is working collaboratively with three phosphate mining companies to proactively protect and restore Yellowstone cutthroat habitat. With support from Idaho mining companies, TU has removed fish barriers, restored spawning habitat and replaced failing irrigation infrastructure that reduced flows and prevented fish passage.

In Colorado, which has more than 13,000 miles of mining-impaired streams, we work with two of the largest mining companies in the state to clean up abandoned mine pollution. Those companies have been industry leaders in stepping up to address legacy mining impacts, and have received awards from Trout Unlimited and other national organizations for their efforts.

Here in Montana last fall, a large gold mining company donated water rights on two Yellowstone River tributaries to Trout Unlimited, a gift of approximately 3 billion gallons of water that will benefit Yellowstone cutthroat trout and the Yellowstone River.

We as an organization are committed to clean water. We have never opposed mines that operate without imperiling water. Mines like Troy and Stillwater create good jobs in Montana and won’t leave a legacy of polluted water for future generations.

We also firmly believe that I-186 is in the best interest of Montanans. This ballot initiative will ensure that new mines, and only new mines, will not create perpetual water quality issues. That is a common-sense requirement.

And while we never expected that improving water quality standards for mining would be easy or without a robust debate, we are not willing to pass polluted water on to our children and their children and their children.

We have too much invested in Montana to simply do nothing. Anyone who is surprised to see Trout Unlimited fighting for reasonable water protections hasn’t been paying attention to how we operate.

We owe it to our members, to our partners, and to future generations to make sure that we take the best care of our cold-water resources. I-186 does that without sacrificing responsible mining. If mining interests in Montana are not ready to say “yes” to protecting clean water, we trust that Montanans will do just that by voting yes on I-186 in November.

David Brooks is the executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited.

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