The Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition (YGBC) is ramping up calls for a mining ban in the Paradise Valley outside Yellowstone National Park.
Indeed, the YGBC is asking an existing bill be attached to “must-pass” legislation this December in order to up its chances of passage.
The YGBC, comprising a number of businesses in the Greater Yellowstone Area, formed in response to renewed interest in gold mining adjacent to Yellowstone. The coalition, along with environmentalists and conservation groups, argue any mining would be detrimental to the region’s scenery and ecological health—both of which drive tourism in the region.
The news comes as Canadian mining company Lucky Minerals Inc. is prepping for exploratory drilling on a site near Emigrant Gulch, Montana. The company, which first approached Montana in 2015 with mining plans, announced earlier this month it had secured investment in its drilling plan. The company also launched a belated outreach effort among Paradise Valley residents, in an attempt to win over opponents and bolster support among area mining advocates.
The company secured approval from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality in July to perform exploratory drilling. Subsequently, the DEQ issued Lucky Minerals a bond request of approximately $154,000 to cover reclamation costs—should the company decide not to pursue a full-fledged mining operation.
In response, the Park County Environmental Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition sued the state of Montana, arguing it had not adequately considered the company’s plans.
Although Lucky Minerals Inc.’s claim is on public land, mining opponents contend the company would have to expand onto nearby U.S. Forest Service land in order to have a profitable venture. To that end, the coalition and environmentalists cheered when then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a two-year moratorium on mining claims on approximately 30,000 acres of forestland near Emigrant Gulch.
The move to ban mining in this pocket of Montana has attracted support from all of the state’s congressional delegation. Indeed, U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D) introduced the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act in order to permanently withdraw the aforementioned 30,000 acres from mining consideration.
This bill is what the YGBC wants to see passed by the end of the year. Although the bill received a hearing in the Senate, it has not left committee. According to Montana Public Radio, it’s unlikely this will occur before the end of the year, especially as the rest of the state’s Congressional reps ponder ways to ban mining outside Yellowstone their way:
“The act would permanently remove public lands immediately north of Yellowstone National Park from future mining activity,” says Dale Saxon, a founding member of the coalition.
The bill was introduced by Democratic Senator Jon Tester earlier this year, but then it stalled in a senate committee. The coalition is now asking Senator Steve Daines to back the bill and for Congressman Greg Gianforte to introduce identical legislation in the U.S. House. Both Republicans say they support a permanent ban on mining near the park but they aren’t ready to hitch their wagons to Tester’s bill just yet.
“I intend to introduce legislation, but this issue is too important to simply introduce legislation and say the work is done,” says Gianforte in an audio statement. “A bill providing a permanent moratorium must have a path forward to pass the House of Representatives and ultimately be enacted into law.”
A spokesperson for Daines says the senator is working to “gain support for an approach that will secure the outcomes, not just the headlines, Montanans want to preserve access and protect our public lands.”
Saxon says while there’s talk of Daines introducing his own legislation before the Senate, Tester’s bill has been vetted.
“I think the outcome that we’re all looking for here is the permanent retirement of the prospect of having any mining on the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park,” he says. “The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act does exactly that. It’s not about securing headlines. It’s about protecting the legacy and the landscape of southwest Montana.”
In a statement to MTPR, Tester’s office said it continued to push the bill, calling on the rest of Montana’s congressional delegation to sign on.
Meanwhile, support for a mining ban has come from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (who was previously Montana’s at-large representative in the House), who is calling for an expedited analysis of the impact of a mining ban in the region.