Home » Montana Court Clears Way for Controversial Copper Mine

Montana Court Clears Way for Controversial Copper Mine

Environmentalists lose appeal against Black Butte project near popular river

by Victor Adetimilehin

The Black Butte copper mine project in Montana has received a major boost after the state’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the developer, Sandfire Resources America.

The court reversed a lower court decision that had invalidated the mining permit for the project, which is located on private land about 17 miles (27 km) north of White Sulphur Springs.

The project has faced strong opposition from environmental groups and residents who fear it could harm the Smith River, one of the state’s most scenic and recreational waterways.

The plaintiffs argued that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MT DEQ) had failed to adequately assess the potential impacts of the mine on water quality, wildlife, and public health.

However, the Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the MT DEQ’s decision to grant the permit in 2020, saying it was based on a thorough and rigorous review.

The ruling was welcomed by Sandfire Resources America, a subsidiary of the Australian mining company Sandfire Resources. The company said it had designed the project to meet the highest environmental standards and protect the river.

“The fact is, ours is the most reviewed and examined proposed project in the history of Montana mining. The court record stands at over 90,000 pages of testimony, information, and analysis,” said Lincoln Greenidge, CEO of Sandfire America, in a press release.

The project is based on the Johnny Lee deposit, which contains high-grade copper with traces of silver and cobalt. According to a 2020 feasibility study, the project has a net present value of $124.9 million and an internal rate of return of 19.3%.

The mine is expected to create about 240 jobs and generate $2 billion in economic activity for the state, according to the company.

Opponents vow to continue to fight

However, not everyone is convinced by the benefits of the project. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which include the Montana Environmental Information Center, Trout Unlimited, and the Smith River Watershed Council, said they were disappointed by the court’s decision and vowed to continue their fight.

They said they were concerned about the potential for acid mine drainage, which occurs when sulfide minerals in the rock react with water and oxygen to produce acidic and metal-rich leachate.

They claimed the MT DEQ had ignored the best available science and relied on flawed modeling and assumptions by the company.

“We are deeply saddened by the court’s ruling, which puts the interests of a foreign mining company over the health and well-being of Montanans and our precious natural resources,” said Derf Johnson, staff attorney for the Montana Environmental Information Center, in a statement.

“We will continue to explore all legal and administrative options to protect the Smith River and its communities from this risky and unnecessary project,” he said.

The opponents also pointed out that there is another legal challenge pending against the project, which questions the constitutionality of the state’s definition of “beneficial use of water” with the mine’s water rights.

The case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on March 29, 2024.

A balanced approach

The Black Butte project has also divided the opinions of local officials and residents. Some have supported the project for its economic benefits and job creation, while others have opposed it for its environmental risks and impacts on tourism and recreation.

The project has also sparked a debate about the role of mining in Montana, a state with a rich but controversial history of mineral extraction and development.

Some have argued that mining is essential for the state’s economy and energy transition, as copper is a key component of renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles.

Others have said that mining is outdated and destructive and that the state should focus on developing other sectors such as agriculture, tourism, and technology.

The Supreme Court’s ruling has highlighted the need for a balanced approach that considers both the benefits and the costs of mining, and that ensures the protection of the state’s natural and cultural heritage.

The court has also reminded the parties involved that the project is still subject to strict regulations and monitoring and that any violations or problems will be addressed accordingly.

The Black Butte project is not the end of the story, but rather a new chapter in the ongoing saga of mining and the environment in Montana.

Source: Mining.com

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