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Groups push to resume enforcement in Montana mining dispute

by Associated Press
| September 13, 2021 12:05 PM

BILLINGS (AP) — Environmental groups have filed notice they plan to sue Gov. Greg Gianforte's administration after it dropped a legal claim against a mining executive over decades of pollution from several mines.

Under Gianforte, the Department of Environmental Quality in July quit a 2018 lawsuit that sought to block Idaho-based Hecla Mining Co. and its president, Phillips Baker Jr., from involvement in two proposed silver and copper mines.

Baker was an executive with Pegasus Gold, which went bankrupt in 1998, leaving state and federal agencies with more than $50 million in cleanup costs at three mines.

A state "bad actor" law enacted in the wake of the Pegasus bankruptcy punishes companies and their executives who don't clean up mining pollution.

In explaining the move to drop the case, DEQ director Chris Dorrington said at the time that it was highly unlikely the litigation would have resulted in cleanup cost reimbursement.

But environmental groups said the state's actions under Gianforte, a Republican who took office in January, were politically motivated and illegal.

If officials don't reverse course and resume enforcing the bad actor law, "we will sue," said Shiloh Hernandez, an attorney representing the Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks and several other groups.

Representatives of Hecla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.