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By Tom Kuglin, Helena Independent Record

Black Butte Copper Mine

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality will appeal a recent decision that found the agency inadequately analyzed the potential environmental impacts of a proposed copper mine near a tributary of the Smith River.

State District Court Judge Katherine Bidegaray ruled late last week that DEQ erred in its issuance of a mine operating permit for the Black Butte Copper Project near White Sulphur Springs. The judge found the agency’s determination that storage of tailings, and specifically a plan to use cement to stabilize and store tailings, reached unsupported or questionable conclusions.

On Tuesday, DEQ told the Montana State News Bureau that it would appeal Bidegaray’s decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

“We care about protecting water quality, the iconic Smith River and upholding the laws of Montana — that’s why our team of experts thoroughly analyzed the permit application and required stringent measures to protect Montana,” DEQ Director Chris Dorrington said. “Before, and after, becoming director I have been involved in this mine permitting process and know it is one of the most protective permits DEQ has ever issued. DEQ plans to appeal Judge Bidegaray’s decision on this sound and defensible permit.”

The Montana Environmental Information Center, Montana Trout Unlimited, Earthworks and American Rivers together filed the lawsuit last year against DEQ and mine owners Tintina Montana Inc. The commissioners of Meagher and Broadwater counties intervened in support of the mine.

On Tuesday, Derf Johnson with MEIC applauded the court’s decision.

“Our position is that the judge was right on the law,” he said. “She did her homework and it’s disappointing DEQ will appeal this decision rather than deny the permit. If DEQ appeals we will defend the decision vigorously in the Montana Supreme Court.”

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