Rep. Greg Gianforte was in Libby Wednesday to attend a late-morning presentation at Hecla Mining Company’s office on Highway 2.
The meeting was part of the congressman’s effort “to see on the ground what’s happening” in the state he was recently elected to represent in Washington, D.C.
Luke Russell, Hecla vice president of external affairs, got Gianforte up to speed on the company’s past, present and proposed mining projects in the area, including the reclamation underway at Troy Mine and the status of proposed mining development at Rock Creek and Montanore mines.
In discussing the latter two projects, Russell noted the permitting, regulatory and court hurdles the company has faced in moving forward and specified some areas in which it would like to see reform — items in which Gianforte indicated he would seek to affect change.
“We are the treasure state, but we can’t get at our treasure,” Gianforte said. “I believe we can develop natural resources and protect the environment both.”
One of the issues for which Russell said reform is key is the permitting process, which Gianforte said needs more accountability.
“When permitting can take two decades, the consequence is not jobs,” he said, acknowledging that “the answer to every permit should not be ‘yes’” but that the goal should be to “get to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ faster.”
Another issue raised was the Equal Access to Justice Act, which was enacted in 1980 to reimburse legal costs for groups and individuals who successfully challenge federal projects in court.
Gianforte said the act “is a good thing, it’s just empowered these environmental extremists to shut down every project” and has become a “funding mechanism” for them.
“I don’t have a specific proposal yet” to fix it, he said. “(Meetings such as) this is where I’m seeking input from.”
At the end of Wednesday’s presentation Gianforte noted that his recent assignments to the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — both of which he said he “pushed hard to get on” — put him in a good position to address Hecla’s concerns.