A coalition of conservation groups took legal action today to protect clean water and native trout on wild public lands in northwest Montana’s Cabinet Mountains from pollution threatened by development of a massive copper and silver mine. The coalition filed a lawsuit asking a state district court judge to overturn a water pollution discharge permit for the Montanore Mine Project, which would bore beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness south of Libby, Montana.
The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness boasts some of the purest waters in the lower-48 and, together with surrounding national forest lands, harbors vital populations of bull trout—a threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act—and other native fish. The challenged permit authorizes mine proponent Montanore Minerals Corp., a subsidiary of Coeur d’Alene-based Hecla Mining Company, to pollute streams that traverse public National Forest lands with contaminated storm water and mine wastewater that contains harmful sediment and metals and is unacceptably warm for native fish. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks, and Save Our Cabinets argue, among other things, that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality acted illegally by omitting essential pollution-control requirements from the permit and relying on an outdated pollution authorization issued in 1992 to a different company for a different project to allow MMC to evade Montana’s legal protections for high-quality waters.
The plaintiff coalition is represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice.
“The water-pollution permit for the Montanore Mine violates fundamental requirements for safeguarding our clean water and the native fish that depend on it,” said Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien. “DEQ should not allow out-of-state companies to use Montana’s prized streams as their industrial waste receptacle.”
“Hecla claims it will mine responsibly, but this permit will unnecessarily degrade Montana trout streams,” said Bonnie Gestring, northwest program director for Earthworks. “It’s not responsible or legal to make use of a 25-year old permit rather than applying the latest technology to protect our high quality waters.”
“It is time to prevent water pollution by mines instead of granting them permission to continue putting more poisons in our waters,” stated MEIC’s executive director Jim Jensen.
“Instead of digging into Hecla’s mining proposal and ensuring rigorous protections for our clean water, DEQ dug up an expired 25-year-old pollution authorization for a different company’s long-abandoned project to green-light excessive pollution from the Montanore Mine,” said Mary Costello, executive director of Save Our Cabinets. “Montanans deserve better from the agency charged with protecting our public waters.”
The coalition’s lawsuit is pending in Montana’s First Judicial District Court in Helena.