By Darrell Ehrlick, Daily Montanan
The flurry and fury of the 2021 Montana Legislature saw plenty of bills and proposals that drew controversy – from a raft of laws aimed at abortion, to where citizens can carry firearms, to how the state treats LGBTQ children.
While those high-profile bills drew a lot of media and public attention, Montana residents are still waking up to the full effects of more than 500 bills that passed into laws. One of those bills that avoided a lot of scrutiny was passed in the final hours before “transmittal,” when bills must official clearly one of the state’s two lawmaking bodies in order to have a chance at passage.
House Bill 599 was pitched by Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby, as one that would cut the red-tape of environmental laws and reviews to allow for “high and dry” open-cut gravel and mining operations. However, a closer reading of the law shows that it substantially changed how the state regulates sand and gravel pits, including those nearby residential areas.
Gunderson defends the changes and points the finger at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which he said may not be interpreting it correctly.
Meanwhile residents in his own district of Libby are outraged at the new law because of a proposed gravel operation there. They said the new law handcuffs the DEQ, changes the way property owners can object, and strikes down a number of different state restrictions that used to control hours of operation or even protect land against acid mine drainage, the toxic byproduct of water and certain exposed minerals at mine sites.