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More than 100 years of pollution of Montana waters resulting from hard-rock mining in certain types of ore bodies is long enough. It is time to safeguard clean water in our state. That safeguard is the citizen initiative, Initiative 186.

More than 45,000 citizens across Montana have signed a petition to put I-186 on this November's ballot. This effort, supported by a group of conservation organizations and led by Montana Trout Unlimited, doesn't attempt to make villains of any industry. MTU is known for working with all interests to do what's best for the waters of Montana. We support responsible mining. But it’s time to hold companies to their word that they will protect our resources.

A good mining job is no less a job than a good outdoor recreation job and vice versa. We should not pit one against the other. However, a small vocal group of opponents to I-186 continue to inflate the number of hard-rock mining jobs in Montana, downplaying the vast footprint the outdoor industry has on Montana’s economy. Here’s a more accurate picture:

On jobs, the outdoor industry far outpaces the mining industry:

• 1,896 metal mining jobs in Montana (Source: Montana Department of Labor)

• 71,000 outdoor recreation and tourism jobs (Source: Outdoor Industry Association)

The same holds true in revenues:

• $25 million in tax revenues from metal mining (Source: Montana Department of Revenue, Biennial Report, July 1, 2014-June 30, 2016)

• $7 billion per year in consumer spending and $286 million in state and local tax revenues from outdoor recreation and tourism (Source: Outdoor Industry Association)

While these are big differences, the two industries can co-exist and find success in Montana. I-186 will help us find that balance, protecting both mining jobs and equally important, protecting outdoor recreation jobs by protecting the resource they depend on: clean water.

It’s time to give the citizens of Montana a voice. The Montana Legislature has failed to address the issue of acid mine drainage resulting from hard-rock mining in certain types of ore bodies. The state permitting process has been hamstrung by legislation passed in recent years that limits the amount of time the Department of Environmental Quality has to thoroughly evaluate a permit application for a new high-risk hard-rock mine. This currently makes it nearly impossible for the DEQ to deny new high-risk hard-rock mining permits.

During the 2015 Montana legislative session, House Bill 626 was tabled and killed by the House Natural Resources Committee. This bill would have prohibited the Montana DEQ from issuing new operating permits if the mine would have required “perpetual care” after mining ceased. During the 2017 session, HB 593 was tabled by the House Natural Resources Committee, and a blast motion on the House floor failed 38-60. This bill would have required operating mines to be subject to periodic independent audits to assure compliance with environmental laws and regulations and to verify bond amounts, and would also have required mines operating in ore bodies likely to produce acid mine drainage to post a bond amount to assure adequate financial resources for reclamation.

Clean water advocates have tried to pass modest mine reform through the Montana Legislature. Lawmakers killed those bills under the influence of the mining industry. It was not evil on the part of the mining industry. It was just business as usual.

It is time for a change in order to safeguard clean water in our state. After all, the waters of Montana are held by the state of Montana for the people of Montana.

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Chris Schustrom is chair of Montana Trout Unlimited.

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