Opponents to mining in the Paradise Valley outside Yellowstone National Park are pressuring U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) to speak out against two mine proposals.
Further, opponents are hoping Daines will support legislation introduced by fellow Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) to ban mining on 30,000 acres of land in the valley: the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act.
Tester introduced the bill two months ago, in response to grassroots opposition from residents and organizations such as the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition and Greater Yellowstone Coalition over a pair of gold mines that have been proposed for the region. Opponents say any mining could negatively impact the region’s ecosystem and the local economy, which generates millions each year from tourists and recreationalists.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, opponents of mining say Daines’ voice would lend credence to the bill and boost its chances, especially since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (previously Montana’s representative in the U.S. House) has voiced opposition to the bill. From the Chronicle:
“We want Daines to ask that this bill gets a hearing, and it needs to happen soon,” said Karrie Kahle, the special events coordinator at Chico Hot Springs and a member of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition.
To keep up the pressure, the YGBC and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition organized a media flyover of the Absaroka Mountains this week. They pointed out the two sites where companies have asked for permission to look for gold, and they pointed out where Tester’s bill would permanently ban new mining claims.
The saga began in 2015, when two companies proposed separate exploratory drilling projects on private lands. Lucky Minerals Inc., a Canadian company, proposed drilling in Emigrant Gulch. Crevice Mining Group, based in Spokane, Washington, proposed looking for gold on Crevice Mountain, near Jardine and the border of Yellowstone National Park.
Opponents of the two projects began asking for a mineral withdrawal in 2016. In November, then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell granted their wish with a temporary ban on new claims in the area, something the opponents of mining the area celebrated. But the only way to permanently ban new claims is through legislation, which is why they are pushing for Tester’s bill. They worry mining will threaten the region’s tourism-based economy.
“The economy we have right now is a sustainable economy,” Kahle said.
Tester said he would ask Zinke’s successor in the House to sponsor companion legislation in the House. Indeed, the successor in question (Republican Greg Gianforte) has told the Chronicle he agrees with the “sentiment of Tester’s bill” but casts doubts on whether it could get out of Congress, citing “property rights concerns.”
According to the Chronicle, Daines shares Gianforte’s property concerns, adding he would want to see compensation for companies who have “unpatented mining claims” in the current withdrawal area. A spokesperson for Daines averred the senator supports the temporary ban as a way to “examine the best path forward that respects private property rights and protects this area.” From the Chronicle:
Kahle, with the business coalition, said Daines’ reasoning “doesn’t quite make sense.”
“We also just don’t understand why he would want to give special treatment to two mining companies over his constituents. That seems to be what he’s doing,” she said.
The bill would not directly affect the two companies trying to look for gold in the area, though it could harm their ability to expand. Both have staked claims on federal land that would be left intact, and both are working with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to obtain permission to explore on private land.
Lucky Minerals is closest to getting approval for their project. Kristi Ponozzo, the director of public policy for DEQ, said the agency expects to release a final environmental analysis of Lucky’s proposal sometime next month. A draft version of the document recommended that the company be allowed to proceed.
Crevice Mining Group has been asked to resubmit its application to DEQ twice. It has not responded to the second deficiency letter that DEQ sent to the company. But Ponozzo said the agency has talked with the company recently about how it can move forward.