The Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) recent decision on Hecla Mining Company will have a chilling effect on future investment in Montana’s economy.
The DEQ’s current decision that would not allow Hecla to develop the Rock Creek and Montanore silver and copper projects in Lincoln and Sanders counties is a huge blow to an area of the Treasure state that desperately needs jobs and could discourage other companies from investing in Montana.
My organization, the Treasure State Resources Association (TRSA) OF Montana, brings together diverse organized labor, agriculture, industry and recreation groups to work on issues that affect land use and resource development in Montana. We have a common interest in seeing good jobs created by increasing Montana’s economic opportunities.
Our state has a long history with mining. Over the years, mining companies have created thousands of good-paying jobs and boosted the economy through increased discretionary income, indirect jobs, tax revenue for local governments and a loyal customer base for the small businesses in our communities. TRSA believes in the “balanced-use approach,” which encourages mineral extraction while protecting the environment and our state’s public lands. The development of minerals and environmental protection do not have to be exclusive.
Generally, we have supported the DEQ’s evaluation process of reviewing and granting new mine applications. The citizens in our state have every right to expect our regulatory structure and processes to scrutinize and hold applicants accountable to the standards we have established. We also have an obligation to be informed and hold each other accountable, collectively ensuring that our state is a place that seeks both the protection of our environment and the economic benefits of mining.
Overall, we find the DEQ and staff to be fair, professional and interested in solving problems. Their decision regarding Hecla is an unusual deviation from what we have come to expect from the agency, and we are struggling to understand what purpose can be served by continuing down this path. We believe that mining companies need to clean up after themselves, but to hold Hecla accountable for the actions of another, unrelated company makes no sense.
This decision not only hurts our local economies, but it also threatens our state’s future. DEQ’s decision sends an anti-business signal to other companies that may be considering investing in our state if they believe they too can be incorrectly held accountable for the actions of others. As a result, our citizens could lose out on much-needed economic opportunities.
Hecla has already demonstrated that they are an environmental steward that fulfills its obligations by buying the former Troy Mine. Hecla is reclaiming the Troy Mine, even though they never operated there and has been a model corporate citizen and community partner.
We should be welcoming a responsible company like Hecla into our state and acknowledging the benefits that modern mining brings to Montana. We cannot ignore the fact that the residents of Lincoln and Sanders counties suffer from high employment, and many families are living apart because the main provider has to travel out-of-state to work.
Developing the mines in Lincoln and Sanders counties would bring hope and economic relief to these communities.
We trust that as the DEQ continues to perform its due diligence and review the information provided by Hecla, the agency will quickly resolve this matter so that positive progress can be made to bring jobs and economic prosperity to Northwest Montana.
Peggy Trenk is Executive Director of the Treasure State Resources Association.