Montana judge rules polluter law can be used against mining company
A Montana judge sided with state environmental regulators who are using a law that protects against repeat polluters against an Idaho-based mining company and its chief executive.
State District Court Judge Mike Menahan in Helena said in a recent ruling that Hecla Mining Company and Managing Director Phillips Baker, Jr. are subject to the state’s “bad actor” law. that blocks individuals and businesses from not cleaning up their old mines. start new ones.
The ruling means the court has jurisdiction over the company and Baker, but it has not considered the merits of the case.
Baker was the former CFO of Pegasus Mining, which went bankrupt in 1998 and imposed on the state and federal governments more than $ 50 million in cleanup costs from three bankrupt mines, including the Zortman mine. -Landusky near the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.
Montana is one of many states with bad actor statutes that allow state environmental agencies to take a company’s or individual’s environmental record into account when deciding whether or not to grant permits.
It was passed by the Montana legislature in 1989 and expanded in 2001 to apply to business executives. The law has already been enforced once, in 2008, in a case that did not involve a major project like the ones Hecla is pursuing at the Rock Creek mine near Noxon and the Montanore mine near Libby, according to officials at Libby. the state.
The two copper and silver mines would tunnel under the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. They have been at a standstill for years, as environmentalists have repeatedly pursued legal action over fears the mines could harm rivers and area wildlife, including bull trout and grizzly bears.
Montana’s Environmental Quality Department filed a lawsuit against Hecla and Baker in 2018 for damage caused by Pegasus, saying the company may have to reimburse the state for past cleanups if it wishes to pursue the new mines.
The costume is supported by the Indian community of Fort Belknap, environmental organizations and a group of traditionalists from the Confederate Salish and Kootenai tribes.
Hecla spokesman Luke Russell said on Monday the company would continue to argue the law was misapplied because Hecla was never involved in the Pegasus mines and Baker left Pegasus before losing his cleaning deposit.
“We think a clear reading is that this law does not apply,” he said.
Baker claimed the tribunal lacked jurisdiction because he did not have “sufficient contact with Montana” other than his former managerial position at Pegasus Gold.
But Menahan ruled that Baker’s participation in two proposals for Hecla’s mine in the state gave the court jurisdiction over him. The judge also said it was “only rational” that Hecla should be subject to the jurisdiction of the Montana courts since he operates in the state.
In April, a federal judge overturned the government’s approval of the first phase of the Rock Creek mine. A final decision is pending on the Montanore mine.
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