The Mining Industry Shows Its True Colors

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…I won’t be fooled again.”

-President George W. Bush, 2006

Montana has been raped — in every sense of the word — by the mining industry for a century and a half. Anyone who doubts that need only look across our beautiful state at the ugly, dead, and polluting sites left behind when the mining barons took the gold and Montana got the shaft, as well as the tailings, the polluted groundwater, the streams devoid of life, the slag piles and the pits full of incredibly poisonous water.

Now, with the potential for an initiative that would prohibit the state from permitting mines that will require pollution treatment “in perpetuity,” the mining industry is once again trying to convince us that it is environmentally friendly, and, jeez, we shouldn’t be trying to stop them from creating perpetual pollution.

As reported late last week, the Montana Mining Association filed a lawsuit against Republican Attorney General Tim Fox, who determines legality for initiatives, and Republican Secretary of State Cory Stapleton, who certifies that the measure can appear on the ballot. They want the Montana Supreme Court to find I-186, the “Yes for Responsible Mining” initiative for which backers expect to gather the 25,600 necessary signatures this week, legally insufficient.

The Montana Mining Association’s Tammy Johnson claims “in general we think that this could portend a ban on future mining.” But that directly contradicts the schtick of Johnson and the various mining companies now trying to convince Montanans to stick new mines at the headwaters of the famed Smith River and under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area. They have been spouting about their new and responsible mining methods.

Obviously, if those mining methods are as environmentally benign as the foreign and out-of-state mining corporations and Montana Mining Association claim, then why would they seek to halt an initiative that only seeks to ban permitting of mines that will require pollution treatment “in perpetuity?”

Even more egregious was the full page ad from Hecla Mining Company headlined, “We believe in long-term relationships,” and closing with, “This is modern mining.” Perhaps someone should tell Hecla that “in perpetuity” means long-term, very, very long term. Only Montana’s “long-term relationship” with treating mining pollution usually happens after the mining companies have packed their bags and fled back to their home countries/states and/or declared bankruptcy, thus leaving the burden of their “in perpetuity” pollution treatment to Montana’s citizens.

Hecla, the company that wants to mine under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area, is already involved in challenging the state’s “bad actor” law that prohibits companies and individuals who were responsible for severe mining pollution from receiving permits for new mines. Why? Because Hecla’s CEO is Phillip Baker, who was chief financial officer for Pegasus Mining, the firm that declared bankruptcy 20 years ago, leaving a collapsing open pit, ground and surface water pollution, and sticking Montanans with a $35 million cleanup tab, And no, it’s not close to being cleaned up and may never be.

It’s worth noting that the Golden Sunlight Mine made the same promises of “modern mining” decades ago. Yet today the Canadian-owned mine has so severely polluted groundwater near the confluence of the Boulder and Jefferson rivers that it will require treatment “in perpetuity.”

Montanans have been fooled far too many times by fast-talking extractive industries — and we continue to pay the very high price to treat their pollution “in perpetuity.” But as President George W. Bush mumbled in 2006, we “won’t be fooled again.”


George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.