By Rob Chaney

Wilderness Mines

Montana’s “Bad Actor” law does apply to an Idaho-based mining company and its executives for the pollution problems they left at a closed gold mine near Malta, a state judge has ruled.

Former Gov. Judy Martz signed the bad actor law in 2001 after Pegasus Gold declared bankruptcy on its Zortman-Landusky, Beal Mountain and Basin Creek mines along the southern border of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Those cyanide heap-leach operations have cost the state more than $50 million in cleanup efforts to water, vegetation and sacred sites of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes.

Phillips Baker was an executive of Pegasus Gold and now serves as chief executive of Hecla Mining Co., which is seeking permits for two copper-silver mines on the edge of the Cabinet Wilderness near Noxon.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality filed a bad actor lawsuit against Hecla and Baker in 2018 over the Pegasus damages. The Fort Belknap Indian Community and a traditional community of the Ktunaxa Nation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, along with the Clark Fork Coalition, Earthworks, Montana Environmental Information Center, Rock Creek Alliance and Montana Conservation Voters all intervened on the side of DEQ against Hecla and Baker.

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