Hecla responds to DEQ’s editorial

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I respect the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s importance in ensuring protection of Montana’s environment. We acknowledge Director Tom Livers’ support for Hecla when he accurately stated, “DEQ recognizes that Hecla’s track record of mine operations and reclamation has earned the company a favorable reputation for commitments to safety and to minimizing environmental impacts from mining.” We also support the law’s intent to hold operators accountable for compliance.

However, Livers’s actions and public statements make it clear that he and his agency are being pressured for the political gain of others, inside and outside Montana. How often does the head of a state agency write an editorial that is not about policy but about singling out one company and one person? (“DEQ protecting the interests of Montana’s citizens,” Aug. 7)

Gov. Steve Bullock’s administration is pursuing an action against Hecla and CEO Phillips Baker to preclude either from mining in Montana because of actions by Pegasus Gold, a company unrelated to Hecla.

Ironically, in May, Livers testified before the Environmental Quality Council that Mr. Baker was not employed by Pegasus when DEQ received funds in 1998 to perform reclamation work in Montana. So, Bullock’s administration is reaching back over 20 years and holding one person liable for actions made by a company after that person left the company, all to delay project development for political gain. Mr. Baker was employed by Pegasus for only four of the 20-plus years the company operated in Montana. DEQ has rightfully stated Pegasus was in compliance with its bonding requirements throughout Mr. Baker’s time there. DEQ’s actions send a chilling message about doing any business with any certainty in Montana.

Livers is also feeding mis-perceptions about Hecla’s current reclamation work in Montana. He knows Troy Mine Inc., Hecla Mining’s subsidiary, is on track to complete Troy Mine reclamation as scheduled. He also knows we have invested over $6 million in reclamation work, have doubled the bond to $24.7 million, placed soil on over 290 acres of the tailings facility or 90 percent of it, reseeded 140 acres, and will complete removing the mill building.

DEQ’s actions have clearly put the Troy Mine permit in limbo. In recent legal filings, DEQ asserted that Troy Mine and Hecla are one and the same, despite being separate corporations. It has also asserted that Hecla cannot conduct any mining-related operations, but then states publicly that Troy Mine can conduct mining reclamation. Which is it? This sort of double talk doesn’t make sense and is inconsistent with the rule of law.

Finally, Livers has expressed a preference that we give up legal arguments to expedite the lawsuit. However, we have repeatedly asked DEQ to ensure that permits are legally valid and will not be unilaterally revoked or suspended during the litigation. The agency has refused to commit. Is that fair?

There is good news though. The U.S. Forest Service has opened the door for Phase I of the Rock Creek project. We have heard from hundreds of local people, businesses and elected officials on how these mines would positively change their lives. We are committed to the people of northwest Montana, to be your community partner and bring high-wage careers to an area with the highest unemployment in Montana.

Gov. Bullock claims to be pro-jobs while he travels outside Montana exploring a presidential run. It’s time for him to demonstrate that jobs and Montana’s prosperity are a top priority.

Doug Stiles is general manager for Revett Silver.

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