I-186 is harmful for Montana

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Radical environmentalists funded by out-of-state billionaires would have Montanans believe I-186 is only about clean water, and that Montanans wrote this “citizens initiative.” They would have us believe Montana’s mining revenue and the local services it funds will continue despite new onerous regulations.

Yes, all Montanans want clean water! And although Montana already has the strictest environmental laws in the nation, we should do more if we can. It is also true that if I-186 passes, it will drive mining companies from the state. I-186 uses terms that have not been defined in law to hold mining companies to a vague standard that has no legal definition. The definitions will be created by state bureaucrats after the initiative passes.

That is why a majority of Montana Republican Legislators voted to call a session of the legislature to consider options to this job killing radical initiative!

The voters deserve to know the truth about the impact I-186 would have on Montana’s economy. The loss of 21,000 local jobs and the $1.3 billion mining industry will have a devastating impact on the funding of our local schools, public services to the disabled, senior citizens and children.

No one wants to see another Berkley Pit or Superfund site in Montana. That’s why laws have been strengthened over the past several years to ensure the protection of our pristine waters. I-186 would have negligible, if any, effect on water quality given Montana’s new stricter regulations.

The legislature attempted to call itself into special session to give voters another option beyond the “I-186 or nothing” choice. The special session would have put a referendum on the ballot allowing voters to say “if I-186 passes, we, the voters, will define the legal terms, not Helena bureaucrats!”

It was a way to recognize that voters may believe in the environmental promises of I-186 but they also want a safeguard against the loss of the mining industry and the family jobs it supports.

Some said the special session would be a waste of taxpayer money. But at less than $200,000, the special session would have been a very small burden on the taxpayers compared to the loss of an entire industry and the taxes paid on income from the high-paying mining jobs.

The Republican legislators are unified in their belief that I-186, as written, is harmful for Montana but they were split on the approach to negate its harmful effects.

A majority of Republicans voted to be proactive via a special session, hoping to offer the voters additional options. The belief was that the special session was the best approach to ensure the continued viability of responsible mining in Montana. However, other Republicans preferred instead to focus exclusively on defeating I-186 at the ballot box. As it stands now, without the special session, we are left with the hope that voters will see through the false choices presented in I-186, and vote no in November.

This letter is signed by Fred Thomas, Montana State Senate Majority Leader; Ron Ehli, Montana State House Majority Leader; Llew Jones, Montana State Senate Finance and Claims Chairman; and Nancy Ballance, Montana State House Appropriations Chair.

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