By Anne Hedges
Montana DEQ has an interactive online map of opencut mines at deq.mt.gov/mining/Programs/opencut.
The 2021 Legislature gutted the law dealing with opencut mines (aka gravel pits). These operations can harm communities’ and neighboring landowners’ water quality and quantity, as well as destroy peace and quiet. Large mines create dust from heavy truck traffic and can seriously diminish neighboring property values. Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) supported the bill because it would become easier to permit facilities despite the bill’s disastrous implications for people who live next to or near a proposed operation.
DEQ is now drafting rules to implement the new law and is ignoring the concerns of neighboring residents in favor of developers. Currently, the proposed rules interfere with the State’s obligation to guarantee the public’s constitutional right to participate, inform adjacent landowners about what is being permitted near their homes, ensure that all lands be reclaimed, and guarantee a right to a clean and healthful environment for all Montanans. The rules will make an already disastrous state reclamation program even worse. Currently:
- Nearly 800 opencut operations have expired reclamation dates as of this writing,
- 169 opencut mine operators report that they are still mining despite having an expired reclamation date in their permits, and
- nearly 30 operations have canceled, expired or forfeited bonds.
The proposed rules address none of these problems. Instead, the rules would eliminate DEQ’s consideration of water-related issues when issuing an opencut permit. DEQ and mine developers disingenuously argue that if the members of the public are concerned about water issues, they can get involved when DEQ issues a water discharge permit. But most water discharge permits for opencut mines are “general permits,” meaning there is no public comment period. Currently DEQ has no plans to ensure that the public has the opportunity to comment on proposed opencut operations that may impact their water and their daily lives.
Join MEIC’s action alert list at www.meic.org/take-action/ so you can provide comments on this unfair and unconstitutional process when DEQ issues a draft rule for public comment in the coming months.
This article was published in the March 2022 issue of Down To Earth.