Attorney General Fox Defends Montana’s Mining Laws in Federal Court

HELENA – On Friday, Attorney General Tim Fox joined a coalition of thirteen states intervening in a lawsuit to defend state mining laws against federal overreach.

In January 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a draft rule that would establish nationwide minimum reclamation bonding requirements for hard rock mining under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The Montana Department of Environmental Quality currently regulates bonding requirements for mining operations in the state. If the EPA enacted the rule, it would replace Montana’s regulations.

In a comment letter filed with the United States Environmental Protection Agency in July 2017, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality voiced strong opposition to additional federal regulation of hard rock mining.

The letter, sent by DEQ’s Air, Energy and Mining Division, stated that Montana has “robust financial assurance programs,” and that federal regulation of mining bonding requirements are unnecessary as, “Montana’s state programs…provide incentives for operators to implement sound practices at hard rock mining facilities.”

DEQ’s comments to the EPA also state that Montana’s existing environmental regulation of hard rock mining adequately addresses long-term impacts of mining operations. DEQ writes, “Montana’s state program already mandates mine plans, reclamation plans, and closure requirements that are intricate and include appropriate engineering and environmental controls based on site-specific conditions, aimed at reaching desired outcomes. Such state requirements substantially reduce the risk of hazardous substance release.”

“The EPA rightly deferred to the states to implement strong environmental protections for hard rock mining—just as Montana has done,” said Attorney General Tim Fox. “As DEQ made clear in its comments to the EPA, Montana has strong environmental protections regulating hard rock mining operations in the state and further regulation is unnecessary. The plaintiffs’ position is counterproductive and ignores the lawful role of the states in implementing environmental regulations.”

In February 2018, EPA sided with Montana’s DEQ and opted not to issue the rule mandating national bonding limits for hard rock mining operations. The Sierra Club and the Idaho Conservation League filed suit in federal court, challenging EPA’s decision not to establish national minimum bonding requirements.

Montana is joined by New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wyoming, Colorado, Wisconsin, Utah, South Dakota, South Carolina and Michigan in defending the EPA’s decision not to issue the proposed rule.

Click here to read the states’ motion to intervene.

Click here to read the Montana DEQ’s public comment letter on the proposed rule.