MAC: Mines and Communities

Montana state Senate OKs bill modifying ban on cyanide

Published by MAC on 2011-03-08
Source: Ely Times, Tribune Capital (2011-02-25)

Thirteen years ago, the US state of Montana banned the use of cyanide in heap and vat-leaching of gold. The prohibition was not only important in the USA but set a precedent for similar actions taken elsewhere around the world.

Now Montana's senate has voted to remove the ban.

As with arguments recently made in favour of "mountaintop destruction" by east coast mining companies, proponents of the measure argue that securing jobs stands above any other consideration. See: US EPA Blasted as It Revokes Mine's Permit

One Montana Republican senator, speaking in defense of the proposed Bill, even had the gall to declare:" My goodness, that's what we do here. This is Montana. We develop and export natural resources. We're not living in a national park here, we're living in a place that needs jobs."

In fact heap leach gold mining was specifically designed to cut employment requirements; and the environmental costs of cyanide spilling from the leach pads could be horrendous

Remember the Summitville disaster of 1988 in Colorado - which took two decades before the EPA even approached an effective clean-up?

See: Friedland's shame: Summitville Saga nears sorry conclusion

 

Senate OKs bill modifying ban on cyanide heap leach mining

By John S. Adams

Great Falls Tribune Capital

24 February 2011

HELENA - The state Senate gave the green light Wednesday to a measure that would modify the 1998 voter-approved ban on cyanide heap leach mining to allow new open-pit gold and silver mines in the state.

Under Senate Bill 306, ore from new open-pit mines could be shipped legally to the Golden Sunlight Mine near Whitehall for processing using the cyanide heap and vat leaching processes.

The current ban on cyanide leach mining contains a clause that exempts mines that were permitted at the time the ban was enacted. Golden Sunlight is the largest of the two remaining mines in the state grandfathered in under the ban.

Critics of the measure said SB306 sidesteps the intentions of voters, who twice voted to ban the process that uses the extremely toxic chemical to leach gold and silver from piles of crushed rocks.

"My problem with leach mining is the residual effects that go on forever," said Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor.

Shockley, who voted against the measure, said he believes Republicans support for cyanide leach mining during a 2004 campaign to overturn the ban may have led to the GOP losing control of the House that election year.

"I believe putting this in our platform cost us," Shockley said. "We lost five districts by less than 106 votes."

Shockely said his main concern is creating new open-pit mines that could eventually land in the taxpayers' laps. The state and federal governments spent millions of dollars trying to cleanup and treat contamination at the Zortman and Landusky mine after the mine's owners went bankrupt in 1999.

"I don't want to put the taxpayers in the position that we're going to have to pay for another mine closing somewhere down the road," Shockley said.

Proponents of the measure say that SB306 is a "jobs bill."

Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, said there is a lot of potential for mineral extraction that could be realized if the bill is passed.

"My goodness, that's what we do here. This is Montana. We develop and export natural resources," Lewis said. "We're not living in a national park here, we're living in a place that needs jobs."

Sen. Kristine Kauffman, D-Helena, said passage of SB306 would go against the will of the voters who opted to ban cyanide leach mining in 1998 and again in 2004.

"The people have spoken twice, this is maybe not an end-round around the ban, but it's a side step to be sure," Kauffman said. "I don't have a problem with consolidating tailings at Golden Sunlight, but this bill says new mines can open, and they can take their material to Golden Sunlight for processing. I believe that violates the spirit of the ban."

The Senate voted 29-21 to pass the measure. The bill now faces a final procedural vote in the Senate before heading to the House.


Effort grows to strip mining of its historic eminent domain powers in Nevada

By Benjamin Spillman

The Ely Times

25 February 2011

Nevada's 130-year-old legal provision giving mining companies the right of eminent domain might be about to get buried because of an unlikely coalition of liberal and conservative forces.

Environmental activists and Tea Party Republicans have joined forces in criticizing the provision, which dates back to Nevada's Comstock era when mining companies ruled the state's economy and its politics.

And a bill by Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, to strip the provision from law is tapping bipartisan resentment of the industry's power.

"This might be the impetus to take it over the top," said historian Guy Rocha who has supported previous, failed efforts to strike the provision. "Before, at best, it may have ended up in another compromise."

Left-leaning environmental and community activists have targeted the provision for decades but were always out-muscled by the politically entrenched mining industry, which employs more lobbyists than there are members of the state Senate.

A bill in 1981 included restrictions on eminent domain in historic areas, but the main provisions favoring mining remained in place.

Leslie was unaware of the issue until summer when she read about a case in Elko in which a mining company was seeking to use the power to acquire ranch property. She pre-filed a bill Jan. 7, but the ground really shifted under the miners' feet Monday during testimony on Leslie's Senate Bill 86 that included Comstock residents who fear mining companies will use the threat of eminent domain to push them off their property.

"We do not live in the 19th century when mining was for all practical purposes the only economic activity in this state," said Silver City resident Larrry Wahrenbrock. "This bill affirms my private property rights as equal to any mining company."

After the testimony freshman Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said he supported Leslie's ideas and other Republicans followed.

Freshman lawmaker, Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, criticized the mining industry in a blog post Tuesday and said Leslie's proposal was a good bill.

By Wednesday Senate Assistant Minority Leader Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, said she planned to sign on to Leslie's bill.

Republicans cited a desire to protect private property rights as a reason for supporting Leslie, one of the Legislature's most liberal members.

Snowballing support for the bill put mining industry lobbyists on the defensive.

James Wadhams, a lobbyist for Newmont Mines, shifted from a defensive tone to a willingness to compromise as more Republicans got behind Leslie.

Wadhams, who had been quoted referring to Leslie supporters as "eco-terrorists," a remark for which he apologized, acknowledged times have changed since the provision was written into law in 1875 as a "paramount interest" in the state.

Today mining employs about 12,000 people in a state labor force of about 1.3 million and "is a small activity, hardly paramount," Wadhams said.

Nevada Mining Association President Tim Crowley said his group will continue to press for changes to soften the bill.

Crowley said limits on mining could inhibit the development of geothermal energy and the mining of lithium, two activities that are important to increasing the availability of renewable energy.

"Utilizing eminent domain can be in the public's best interest," Crowley said.

Although it appears Leslie has enough support to get the bill through the Senate, potential obstacles remain.

Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, said Wednesday he supports keeping the law as it is, with mining companies maintaining the eminent domain privilege.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval was noncommittal on the issue during a recent meeting with Leslie.

"I told (Sandoval) it was probably going to land on his desk sooner rather than later," she said.

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