Missoulian State Bureau Racicot has not said if he'll sign
HELENA - Bills to ease mine waste cleanup requirements and put a moratorium on new game farms are on their way to the governor's desk after the House passed both measures Wednesday.
After lengthy debate, the body passed 60-40 Senate Bill 9, by Sen. Chuck Swysgood, R-Dillon, to change mine reclamation requirements so that backfilling of open pits isn't always required. It passed the Senate Tuesday 34-15 mostly on party lines as it did in the House.
The measure would be applied retroactively, meaning it would date back to Sept. 30, 1995, to apply to any mine-cleanup plan approved by the state since then.
Opponents argued the public didn't have enough notice to comment on the proposal and that it flies in the face of Montana's Constitution, which requires all mined lands be reclaimed.
"The ghost of the Anaconda Co. is alive and well," said Rep. Gary Beck, R-Deer Lodge, referring to how the former mining company was alleged to have controlled the Legislature and environmental laws. "We're giving huge corporations the ability to walk away and say we can mine here at a future date. They can walk away and don't have to clean it up."
But backers said it's important to protect mining jobs and economic viability of existing mines by not crippling them with gratuitous and costly cleanup.
"We're not talking about recruiting new economies," said Rep. Bill Tash, R-Dillon, who presented the bill. "We're talking about saving what we have."
The House also passed a measure to halt the state from licensing any new game farms until a live test for chronic wasting disease is found.
In a 87-13 vote, lawmakers adopted Senate Bill 7, by Sen. John Hertel, R-Moore. It now goes to Gov. Marc Racicot before coming law; Racicot has not said if he will sign the bill.
Supporters argue the bill will encourage scientists to speed up the process of finding a live test to determine if deer and elk have the fatal neurological disease.
The Montana Wildlife Federation opposes the measure, saying it doesn't do enough to stop transmission of the disease. It remains unknown how the disease is transported or whether it's contagious to humans.
Other opponents argued that the bill gives a monopoly to existing game farms until a live test is found. The only existing test on chronic wasting disease uses the brain tissue of dead wildlife.