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Montana’s mining industry is a bright spot in our state economy. While our state has been facing growing concerns about declining tax revenue and budget shortfalls, mining continues to be one of the largest employers and taxpayers in our state — supporting over 12,000 jobs and generating nearly $200 million in revenue for Montana.

But environmental groups like the Montana Environmental Information Center have introduced a ballot initiative (Initiative 186) that will effectively stop all new mining in Montana, as well as the jobs, tax revenue and economic benefits that would come with it. Supporters of this initiative are trying to hide the negative impacts of I-186. They are deliberately misleading Montanans by claiming that this initiative is about fixing our mining regulations and promoting clean water — but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Montana is home to some of the world’s most stringent and thorough environmental regulations when it comes to permitting mines. As I have followed the efforts of the Black Butte Copper Project and the proposed mining operations in northwestern Montana, I have seen our permitting process in action. Not only have each of these companies spent years diligently working to meet and exceed every aspect of Montana’s environmental requirements and permitting regulations, but they have spent millions of dollars in the process.

Despite the years of effort and large financial investment, a major mine hasn't been permitted since the East Boulder Mine in 1992, which runs along the East Boulder River and whose sister mine, the Stillwater Mine (permitted in 1986), runs along the Stillwater River. Black Butte Copper would be the first copper mine permitted since the Troy Mine, which was first permitted in 1978.

Instead of looking to these mines as examples of the balance Montana has achieved between protecting our environment and developing our mineral resources, the supporters of I-186 point to bygone, gold-rush-era mines that have been out of operation for decades. Our high standards for remediation and strict environmental protections ensure that mines operating in Montana leave our landscape and waterways in better condition than before mining took place.

If I-186 passes, the balance that currently exists will be upended and our opportunity to develop these resources in the future will be lost.

In addition to the staggering economic impacts of I-186, it may also have repercussions for our national security. Our natural resources — especially mined minerals — play a key role in our ability to provide our military with the technology and equipment it needs to protect our troops. No one knows and appreciates this fact more than the members of our National Guard and Reserve and the residents of Great Falls — home of the Malmstrom Air Force Base.

In fact, the Department of Defense uses over 750,000 tons of mined minerals each year.

The proposed Black Butte Copper mine near White Sulphur Springs is home to a billion pounds of high-grade copper. The two proposed mines in northwestern Montana have the potential to produce more than 500 million ounces of silver and 4 billion pounds of copper in their lifetime.

For the sake of our economy, and our national security, we simply cannot afford to let I-186 keep our mineral resources in the ground.

Vote 'no' on I-186 to protect the future of mining, and the future of Montana.

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Roger A. Hagan is a retired chief master sergeant of the Montana Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force, and served as the state representative for House District 19 in 2013. He currently represents veterans and military members as a lobbyist.

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