Court Affirms Yellowstone More Valuable than Gold, Blocks Mining Exploration
A Montana district court has quashed a permit that would have allowed Canadian mining company Lucky Minerals Inc. to explore for gold in Emigrant Gulch just north of Yellowstone National Park. The ruling blocks exploratory drilling that was slated to begin on July 15, 2019, and is a significant victory in the multi-year effort to protect Yellowstone National Park from new mines surrounding the national park.
The ruling invalidates Lucky Minerals’ exploration license, establishing that it would violate the public’s environmental and public participation rights under Montana’s Constitution to allow the illegal project to move forward. The ruling is the result of a lawsuit brought by Park County Environmental Council and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, both represented by Earthjustice.
“This ruling ensures that Lucky Minerals can’t harm clean water and native wildlife at the gateway into Yellowstone National Park under cover of a license that was never legally issued in the first place,” said Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice attorney. “Lucky Minerals should have read the writing on the wall a long time ago.”
The same court previously ruled that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality illegally approved the drilling plan when it failed to consider the plan’s threats to water quality and wildlife. Despite these findings, Lucky Minerals was still permitted to conduct the exploratory drilling that would give rise to these threats before the agency could conduct a new review of the project. As the court explained, this left the public with “no meaningful chance to participate in the agency decision” before the harmful impacts of drilling could occur.
While Lucky Minerals was promoting its gold exploration plans for mining claims around Yellowstone, federal agencies and Congressional leaders went to work to protect the lands surrounding the national park. Then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke made adjacent public lands around Yellowstone off limits to mining with a 20-year mineral withdrawal on October 8, 2018. And on March 12, 2019, the President signed into law a bipartisan public lands bill making these protections permanent.
“Lucky Minerals should have learned by now that our community will not rest until our irreplaceable wild places are safe from industrial gold mining,” said Park County Environmental Council Executive Director Michelle Uberuaga. “We will win because local residents, businesses, and elected officials are united to protect our natural resources and local economy against this threat.”
“The court’s ruling is a critical piece in protecting Yellowstone’s Gateway from the menace of gold mining,” said Greater Yellowstone Coalition Executive Director Caroline Byrd. “The Trump administration, the Obama administration, Congress, the Forest Service, the Park County Commission, thousands of citizens and more than 420 Montana businesses all agree, Yellowstone is more valuable than gold.”