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Commentary from Musselshell County landowners regarding suggested modifications to mining laws



Montana – The laws governing mining in Montana may change. During its most recent session, the Montana Legislature passed two new legislation.

Reclamation of water quality is the focus of one. Environmentalists contend that until a party can afford to lose, the other could financially constrain them from suing mining firms throughout the permitting process.

But the Department of the Interior would still need to approve all of this. During the hearing, which was held on Wednesday at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Billings, ranchers and environmentalists spoke.

A sponsor of the measure stepped up in support of the suggested modifications. Some people in Musselshell County are worried about the new laws.

Reclamation from coal mining has not yet been finished, according to landowners close to the Bull Mountain Mine near Roundup.

“My brother Steve has had the most damage,” said Kit Charter Nilson. “He’s got subsidence cracks all over his place.”

Steve Charter, Nilson’s brother, has faced difficulties due to damage sustained by his cattle. Earth Justice and the Western Environmental Law Center expressed their displeasure with the cracks and requested that the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) adhere to the law in a letter complete with legal analysis. Q2 has not received a response from Signal Peak Energy either the proposed laws or the cleanup.

“I truly believe mining and agriculture can co-exist, but it has to be done right,” one woman said at the hearing.

Over twenty people remarked. Material damage to the hydraulic equilibrium was defined by House Bill 576 as a major, long-term, or permanent detrimental alteration.

“As long as it is similar to the water quality around it or to the pre existing conditions around it, that is not adversely damaged water,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Rhonda Knudsen, R-Culbertson.

Former House natural resources committee member Culbertson claims that material harm was not previously well defined.”It makes it almost impossible for a landowner to be sure that their water will maintain its current quality.”

Senate Bill 392 gives a court or agency the power to award the winning party’s reasonable legal expenses.

“The prospect of having to pay their bill if you don’t prevail, it would obviously have a pretty strong chilling effect,” said Ressa Charter, Steve’s son.

SB 392 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Great Falls.

“The concern is that you get these long litigation processes and that even if you eventually do prevail, after many years, you may not you may not even be able to do it,” Fitzpatrick said.

Laws are not intended to prevent lawsuits, according to Fitzpatrick.

“It’s intended to make sure what you’re filing is a legitimate lawsuit,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s just intended to even the playing field and make sure we’re not subjecting people to frivolous lawsuits.”

The comment period closes on November 6.

The OSMRE anticipates a two- to three-month decision-making process.






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