Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has thrown his weight behind a mining ban proposal in the Paradise Valley outside of Yellowstone National Park.
According to the Flathead Beacon, Zinke announced through Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift that he is “fully in the corner of protecting the Paradise Valley.” Swift added that Zinke supports a 20-year withdrawal of mining claims for the region.
In November 2016, the Interior placed a two-year ban on new mining claims on approximately 30,000 acres of land in the Paradise Valley adjacent to the Emigrant/Jardine sites. The Interior also began a two-year review of gold mining in the region.
Zinke spoke out against mining outside Yellowstone as Montana’s at-large congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, prior to his nomination as Interior Secretary.
Zinke’s successor, Greg Gianforte (R), has likewise spoken out against mining outside Yellowstone.
According to the Beacon, Zinke wants to “speed up” the proposal to ban gold mining outside Yellowstone. Further, he wants to expand the review to include oil and gas, coal and phosphate mining—with the expectation that these claims would also be barred.
The news comes after the Montana Department of Environmental Quality gave Vancouver-based Lucky Minerals Inc. permission to perform exploratory drilling on a site near Emigrant Gulch. Lucky Minerals has said they could start drilling by the end of the year.
Last week, the DEQ issued a bond request to the company amounting to $154,274. Lucky Minerals protested the bond was too high, while mining opponents say it was not high enough. The DEQ maintains the bond would cover reclamation costs should the company drill and decide not to mine.
Another company, Crevice Mining Group LLC, has been looking to do exploratory drilling outside Jardine for several years. However, they have had their application repeatedly rejected due to wastewater and reclamation concerns. It’s worth noting Lucky Minerals got the go-ahead after promising extensive waste management procedures and employee wildlife training.
Although both claims are on private land, they would likely need to expand onto nearby public land. We previously reported that any withdrawal by the Interior Department would likely be temporary; permanent mineral withdrawal is only possible via an act of Congress.
Indeed, earlier this year, U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, which would permanently ban mining on the 30,000 acres currently withdrawn by the Interior. The bill got a hearing in the Senate in front of the Natural Resources subcommittee, which features Tester’s Montana counterpart, Senator Steve Daines (R).
Daines has spoken favorably of a mining ban in the Paradise Valley but has not formally endorsed Tester’s bill, in spite of efforts by the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition to convince him.