At Sibanye-Stillwater, we take tremendous pride in operating responsibly and caring for the environment under existing law and under our Good Neighbor Agreement. This is a contract with three local citizens’ groups that creates an innovative framework for protecting the environment while encouraging economic development. This agreement establishes clear and enforceable standards in environmental excellence, public safety and security, and public transparency. This kind of stakeholder collaboration is the foundation for our sustainable mining operations at the Stillwater and East Boulder mines. We believe that existing regulations are comprehensive and adequately protect the environment, and our mines are a good example of that.
I-186 undermines the strict regulations in place today and unnecessarily complicates the ability of mining companies to plan for the future. I-186 is promoted as a “clean water” initiative, necessary to prevent mine pollution. But because of its vague and undefined terms, I-186 would undermine existing regulations, confuse an already complex permitting process, and provide no certainty that any company could obtain a new or modified permit, regardless of how environmentally sound.
The Stillwater and East Boulder Mines in Stillwater and Sweetgrass Counties are the only platinum and palladium mines in the country. The majority of our platinum and palladium is used in catalytic converters to reduce air pollution from automobiles. In addition to our mining operations, we also operate a platinum and palladium processing facility, a world-class analytical lab, and a catalytic converter recycling business, all right in Columbus. In fact, we are the largest global recycler of auto catalysts in the world.
Our company mission is “Our mining improves lives,” and we strive to make that mission happen every day. We are the largest industrial employer in Montana with over 1,500 employees. Conducting our business amongst the world’s most pristine landscapes is a unique privilege, and we are stewards of the environment not only because of our regulatory and social obligations, but also because we live and recreate here. We believe in our unique balance between environmental stewardship and responsible rural economic development, and we think I-186 jeopardizes it.
The longevity of our operations and the future of our workforce depend on a predictable permitting climate. We proudly employ United Steelworkers, who recently announced their opposition to I-186. Despite claims that the initiative will not affect existing operations, Sibanye-Stillwater is deeply concerned that I-186 will jeopardize future expansion projects or lead to litigation that ultimately blocks expansion plans and puts Montanans out of work.
The Stillwater Mine was first permitted thirty years ago and the East Boulder Mine was the last major mine permitted in the state of Montana, over twenty years ago. Since then, significant reforms have been made to strengthen environmental protections.
Montana’s rigorous environmental laws, specifically those that pertain to water discharge standards, already prevent any company from polluting waterways. We carefully manage and treat water from the mines to comply with standards more stringent than those required under the Safe Drinking Water Act. We do not discharge any mine water directly to surface water. We’re rightfully required to provide monthly monitoring reports to the Department of Environmental Quality to ensure that all permits comply with water quality standards.
Within any mining operation, ensuring environmental integrity requires a team of specialized professionals in-house and within the public agency tasked with reviewing permit applications and overseeing compliance. I-186 is poorly written, vague, and confusing. It threatens to shift the environmental discussion away from qualified environmental professionals and put it in the purgatory of endless permit litigation.
To ensure the future of mining in Montana, we urge voters to join us in voting “no” on I-186.
Randy Weimer is the U.S. region environmental manager for Sibanye-Stillwater.