Although the Interior Department has temporarily blocked new mining claims north of Yellowstone, it would take Congress to make the ban permanent.
Earlier this week, we reported the Department would block new claims on about 30,000 acres of land north of Yellowstone National Park, within the vicinity of two claims held by companies looking for gold. Local opposition to these claims has been staunch, and while the mining claims ban doesn’t affect these claims, locals believe the Interior’s decision could impact their viability.
Indeed, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has routinely rejected one application, citing concerns over waste treatment and reclamation bonds; the DEQ is taking public comment on the other application through December 12.
Currently, the Interior’s ban is set to last two years and could be extended to 20 years. However, some want mineral rights on the site to be permanently tabled, which, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, is only possible through congressional action:
At Chico Hot Springs on Monday, Montana’s U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said that he would be introducing legislation to do just that during the next session of Congress.
What that bill will look like and whether it will have the full support of Montana’s congressional delegation isn’t clear just yet. In an email on Tuesday, Tester spokeswoman Marnee Banks said Tester hasn’t worked out all the specifics of the bill yet but would release a draft when they have one. She added that Tester has made the measure a high priority and plans to introduce it in the “first months of 2017.”
Banks also said the senator hasn’t talked to Republican Sen. Steve Daines or Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke about the measure yet, but is “hopeful this can be a bipartisan effort.”
Zinke has expressed opposition to the two mining proposals in the area — which include an Emigrant Gulch proposal from Lucky Minerals Inc. and one on Crevice Mountain near Jardine from Crevice Mining Group LLC.
Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email that the congressman wasn’t reachable by phone on Tuesday so she couldn’t say for sure whether he would support Tester’s legislation. But she did say that if the local community supports a permanent ban on new mining claims in the areas, Zinke would too.
Daines has not publicly voiced opposition to the mines. Daines staff said in an email that he would consider legislation that balances environmental sensitivity and community needs with “responsible natural resource development in Montana.”
In an emailed statement, Daines said he “will continue to listen and work with the local community and ensure their voice is heard. We must strive for a balance that protects the private property rights and values of all parties, and also protects our environment.”
As mentioned, both companies looking to mine in the area are not affected by the temporary ban. Nonetheless, according to the Chronicle, local activists and residents plan to keep up opposition, citing the momentum of the Interior’s announcement.
Michelle Uberuaga, executive director of the Park County Environmental Council, told the Chronicle they are following the companies’ permitting process to “ensure the applications that are active on private land are also given the scrutiny they deserve.”
Also per the Chronicle: Livingston-based Katabatic Brewing Company has announced a new beer “meant to raise awareness” of the Crevice and Lucky projects: Clean Water Pilsner. Katabatic is a member of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, which penned a letter earlier this year asking the U.S. Forest Service to consider withdrawing mineral rights from land north of Yellowstone.