MAC: Mines and Communities

Legislative attempts to curtail the use of cyanide

Published by MAC on 2004-10-19

Local Group Takes Cyanide Debate to New South Wales Parliament

Media Release - Rainforest Information Centre (RIC)

For Immediate Release: October 19, 2004

Sydney, Australia - Today, the Lismore based teamed up with the Greens New South Wales to bring Mining Amendment (Cyanide Leaching) Bill 2004 to Parliament as a matter of urgency. The Government supported the Greens' motion to have the Bill debated.

"Cyanide is lethal," said Ruth Rosenhek, co-Director of RIC. "Its use in gold mining puts humans, precious waterways, flora and fauna seriously at risk as leaks and spills from mines are frequent."

Cyanide Leaching Bill 2004 would prohibit the recovery of gold, silver and other metals by cyanide leaching of ore in new mining projects such as the Cowal Gold project.

"With the Cowal Gold Project now entering its construction phase, an estimated 6000 tonnes of cyanide is scheduled to be transported each year, beginning in early 2005, from Queensland to the edge of Lake Cowal," said Ms. Rosenhek

"For at least 8 years, 25 tonnes of cyanide would be trucked to the site most days of the week. According to the NSW Roads and Transport Authority, on average 1 out of 10 trucks has an accident each year. Clearly this is an unacceptable risk.

"Cyanide leaks and spills and the damage wrought by these accidents has previously been under-reported both in Australia and overseas. Since the year 2000, dozens of incidences involving cyanide leaks and spills have been reported worldwide sometimes wiping out entire river systems as in the case of the Tisza and Danube Rivers in Romania and Hungary."

"These sorts of accidents are just as likely to happen in countries with strong environmental protection measures such as the USA and Australia.

"Despite government assurances that the Timbarra Gold Mine located in western New South Wales was a world best-practice mine, there were overflows from the toxic wastewater ponds into the surrounding creeks on a number of occasions in early 2001.

"There is nothing in place to prevent a tailings pond disaster from occurring at the Cowal Gold Project in the same manner as it did at the Northparkes copper-gold mine (Parkes, NSW) which saw thousands of birds killed in 1995 due to a failure in monitoring cyanide levels.

"In fact, the Cowal Gold Project tailings ponds do not meet Australia's best practice standards which recommends small tailings ponds cells to ensure effective monitoring and emergency management. Not only are the Cowal Gold Project tailings ponds huge (1.3 km x 1.3km), they are situated on a floodplain."

"Cyanide has been banned in the state of Montana which reported 62 spills or leaks of cyanide between the years 1982 and 1998."

Thousands of NSW residents have signed a petition asking for an end to the use of cyanide leaching in gold and silver mining.

The matter was adjourned and the Bill will be debated at the end of October.

For further information, contact Ruth Rosenhek on (02) 66213294 or

Visit for details of Cyanide Bill 2004

Elder to lead gold mine protest

October 22, 2004

Activists are expected to meet today at Lake Cowal, near West Wyalong on the NSW central western slopes, to stage one of the largest on-site protests against the Barrick gold mine development.

Wiradjuri elder Neville Williams is leading the traditional smoking ceremony, bringing sacred ashes from the fire at the tent embassy in Canberra.

Mr Williams is mounting legal challenges against several aspects of the mine's development, saying he represents the traditional owners of the land.

He says the convergence is on a large scale and demonstrates the massive support for his cause.

"We feel that the area there needs smoking and that's what we're about to do. We're to smoke the area to cleanse the area of the evil spirits," he said.

"It could take three or four days and we're expecting quite a few people.

"There could be 150 to 200 people at the gathering."

Barrick Gold's manager for business development, David Tucker, says his company will only move to stop the protest if those involved come onto the mine's land.

"Our security guards have been asked to observe and to ask people not to come on the mining lease," he said.

"If people do come on the mining lease then that will then become a police matter."

Tailings Dam Leak at Kalgoolie Mine in Western Australia downplayed by Barrick Gold

ABC Online

Wednesday, 27 October 2004

Gold miner plays down pollution fears

Barrick Gold says it does not believe a pollution problem at its mine in Western Australia will also happen at its new mine near West Wyalong on the NSW central western slopes. A report by the Western Australian Government released last week revealed a tailings dam holding toxic waste at Kalgoorlie leaked and contaminated groundwater and an area of about 20 kilometres.

The mine is half owned by Barrick Gold and another company.

But Barrick Gold spokesman David Tucker says the new mine comes under a very strict set of controls built into the development consent.

He also says the level of cyanide released into the tailings dam at Lake Cowal will be far lower than most other mines.

He says the company will do its best to make sure a situation like what happened in Western Australia does not happen at its new mine.

"No-one can ever guarantee anything, but we will be meeting the compliance of those very strict controls that have been set for us by the New South Wales Government," he said.

But Greens' MLC Lee Rhiannon says the report shows a disturbing record for the company.

"Last week, a Western Australian Government review into the Finistone Dam at Kalgoorlie reveals the worrying trends," she said.

"What we have is the environmental impact of the tailings dam has increased salinity, there's heavy metal contamination and cyanide contamination and elevated cyanide levels in the groundwater."

Ms Rhiannon says the way to solve the problem is for the State Government to ban the use of cyanide in mines.

"The NSW Government has before it a quick way to solve this and that is to pass the Greens' bill," she said.

"Last week in the NSW Parliament I introduced a bill that will ban cyanide leach mining that gives the solution to the serious problem that we're confronted with and that is Barrick Gold's plans to use cyanide to obtain gold around Lake Cowal."

Rainforest Information Centre Box 368, Lismore 2480 NSW (02) 66213294

Help Protect Sacred Lake Cowal - see

$2.2 million raised to repeal cyaninde leach mine ban

By Jennifer McKee - IR State Bureau

19th October 2004

Helena - The out-of-state mining company behind an effort to repeal Montana's ban on cyanide leach mining gave nearly $850,000 to the effort - an average of about $23,000 every day - over the past five weeks, state records filed Monday show.

Miners, Merchants and Montanans for Jobs and Economic Opportunity, the group formed to promote Initiative 147, has raised a total of $2.2 million with 98 percent of that coming from one Colorado mining company, Canyon Resources Corp., state records show. Canyon gave $848,005 in both cash and in-kind donations between Sept. 7 and Oct. 13, according to information filed with the state commissioner of political practices. The company has given $2.16 million so far

I-147 would repeal a 1998 citizen-passed ban on cyanide leach mining, restore the mineral leases lost since the ban passed and require new environmental safeguards.

Canyon wanted to build a large cyanide leach gold mine near Lincoln when voters outlawed the practice.

Foes of I-147, a group called Save the Blackfoot, raised $212,138 in the past five weeks, an average of about $5,700 every day. They have spent $195,117.

About a third of Save the Blackfoot's money came from Montana Trout Unlimited, which gave just over $69,000 in cash and in-kind donations.

A second group opposed to I-147, called Montanans for Common Sense Mining Laws, raised $71,277 in the last month, records show, an average of about $1,900 a day. The group has spent $52,188.

The I-147 campaign has heated up recently, with both sides running television advertisements and sending large, glossy postcards to voters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Business interests which want to reverse Montana's ban on cyanide processing claim it will bring jobs and wealth to the people. The original people of the state emphatically disagree.

Tribes issue statement against Initiative 147

By Tim Leeds, Havre Daily News

October 29, 2004

The governments of Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap Indian reservations are asking people across Montana to oppose an initiative that would restore cyanide heap-leach mining in the state.

The Fort Belknap Indian Community Council sent a letter to the governments of the other six Indian reservations in the state asking them to oppose I-147, which seeks to overturn an initiative passed in the 1990s that banned cyanide mining.

The Rocky Boy tribal council last week approved a resolution stating its opposiion to the initiative.

"We just wanted to let it be known that we have firm support for our fellow tribe over there," Rocky Boy council member Jonathan Windy Boy said today. "The devastation they have is tremendous."

Supporters of the initiative say technology allows the use of cyanide to extract minerals from ore without damaging the environment, and that the initiative includes strict regulations to protect the environment.

Opponents say the initiative includes no new environmental-protection provisions.

The tribal government at Fort Belknap has sued the state over its plan to clean up the Zortman-Landusky mines adjacent to the reservation's southern border, saying the state's plan will not adequately reduce the danger contaminated water at the cyanide heap-leach mine poses to the reservation.

Julie King Kulbeck, secretary treasurer of the Fort Belknap tribal council, said the council hopes its stance also persuades people outside of the reservations to oppose the initiative.

While the US electorate was busy deciding the future of the world last week, a more successful outcome was registered by voters in Montana: the cyanide ban is to stay!

Voters refuse to relax cyanide mining restriction

By Susan Gallagher, Associated Press

November 2 2004

Helena -- Montana's ban on use of cyanide technology in new gold and silver mining withstood a challenge by the mining industry in the election Tuesday.

Voters refused to reverse the ban as the industry wanted in Initiative 147. With 522 of 881 precincts reporting, the vote was 153,080 against overturning the ban voters approved six years ago, to 104,374 in favor, or 59 percent to 41 percent.

"It's a sad day for the American mining industry and the future economy of Montana," said Tim Smith, manager of a Jefferson County gold mine and member of a campaign committee that backed I-147. "The environmentalists did it again, using scare tactics."

But Paul Roos of Ovando, treasurer of a group that fought I-147, said voters made "the right decision for clean drinking water and our rivers, and for our economy."

Use of cyanide to separate gold and silver from rock may be "all right in a state where there's no water," Roos said. "It's proven that it doesn't work here."

Supporters of Initiative 147 touted it as a way to tell the North American mining industry, with its high-paying jobs, that Montana is open for business. Opponents said passage would leave the state vulnerable to catastrophic water pollution.

The few places where I-147 drew a substantial lead included Butte-Silver Bow and Jefferson counties, both of which have operating mines. With 40 of 47 precincts reporting, the Butte-Silver Bow vote was 5,012 in favor of ending the ban to 2,095 opposed. In Jefferson County, with 11 of 14 precincts reporting, the vote was 3,574 to 2,164.

The process at issue involves rinsing piles of crushed rock with cyanide, a potent chemical that percolates through the rock and draws out small deposits of gold or silver. Voters in 1998 passed an initiative banning that process.

The measure decided Tuesday stirred strong emotions in Montana and brought major financial support from Colorado-based Canyon Resources Corp. The campaign organization supporting I-147 received at least $2.2 million in cash and contributions from Canyon Resources, more than four times the contributions to campaign groups fighting the initiative.

The company wanted to develop a cyanide gold mine near western Montana's Blackfoot River, but plans came to a halt when voters passed the ban six years ago. During the campaign to pass I-147, Canyon Resources said it still aimed to develop the mine and projected 14 years of metal production, with employment spanning at least 20 years.

Among the states, only Montana banned the cyanide process, said Warren McCulloch, an administrator in the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Three major mines in the state used the cyanide process before the 1998 ban, but with gold prices in decline they stopped mining shortly before it took effect.

Environmental problems exist in varying degrees at the three sites.

The mining industry promoted cyanide as safer than other methods of extracting gold and silver from ore, and said I-147 set forth environmental safeguards. But critics and even state officials found nothing new in what the industry billed as a safety net.

Barrick Gold's Lake Cowal project on Australian Aboriginal territory takes an historic hit from the Land Court, while the site's traditional owner backs the call for a cyanide ban.

Court Decision Stops Work On Cowal Gold Project Electricity Transmission Line

Delays expected to cost millions and set back operation start up

Media Release

5th November 2004

Justice David Lloyd from the Land and Environment Court today handed down a decision invalidating consents and permits issued by the Department of Environment and Conservation to destroy Aboriginal objects on the proposed electricity transmission line (ETL) for the controversial Lake Cowal Gold Project.

The challenge was taken by Wiradjuri Traditional Owner Neville Williams who claimed that he had been denied procedural fairness over the issuing of the consents. Mr Williams complained that Country Energy and Dr Colin Pardoe, the consulting archaeologist for Barrick Gold, refused him access rights to investigate the Aboriginal objects which would be destroyed and/or disturbed by the construction of the ETL.

Mr Williams has engaged in numerous legal challenges in a bid to protect Aboriginal heritage from mining at Lake Cowal situated 38km north of West Wyalong in Central Western NSW.

In his judgment Lloyd J found that Mr Williams had a legitimate expectation that he would be involved in identification and assessment of the significance of Aboriginal objects within the electricity transmission line corridor which Country Energy and Dr Pardoe failed to meet. Although he was invited to make submissions Country Energy and Dr Pardoe refused to allow him to be involved in the identification and assessment process during or subsequent to the original archaeological surveys.

Canadian company Barrick Gold have submitted to the Court that delay in the construction of the electricity transmission line is likely to cost the company over a million dollars a month.

Advocate and researcher for the Indigenous Justice Advocacy Network, Al Oshlack who appeared for Mr Williams at the hearing, said today that: “This is a significant win not only for Mr Williams but for many other Aboriginal Traditional Owners who are struggling to protect sites which are being systematically destroyed by the NSW Government through the Department of Environmental and Conservation. We have estimated that over 600 Aboriginal sites in NSW have been issued with Consents to Destroys in the last 3 years.

“Mr Williams’ Court victory is very important in that it gives a precedent that the NSW Government through the DEC need to recognise the rights of Traditional Owners to have a say in the management and protection of Aboriginal sites” said Mr Oshlack.

The Court has ordered that Country Energy and Dr Pardoe must abstain from any activity which relies on the permits and consents or they would be in breach of the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

Inquiries: Al Oshlack Ph. 66 242437

Neville Williams Ph 0416 316 774

Elder backs mine cyanide ban

ABC online

November 5 2004

Wiradjuri elder Neville Williams says he supports the New South Wales Greens' call for a ban on the use of cyanide in the state's gold and silver mines.

The Greens introduced a Bill into Parliament this week proposing a total ban on the chemical, which will be used in leach mining at Lake Cowal near West Wyalong on the state's central western slopes.

Mr Williams has been fighting against the development of the mine for years, with legal claims that he is the site's traditional owner, and with challenges in the Land and Environment Court.

He says the Greens are right to fear the use of cyanide in mining.

"[The] Lake Cowal mining project is a disaster just waiting to happen where the NSW Government has consented to a cyanide leaching gold mine, in the centre of the Murray Darling Basin and it's in the water catchment area of the Lachlan River, and it's in one of the largest wetlands in NSW," he said.

Mr Williams and his supporters will head to Lake Cowal tomorrow for a traditional smoking ceremony and peaceful protest.

Greens Welome Court Decision on Lake Cowal

Media Release - November 5, 2004

Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon today welcomed the Land & Environment Court's decision to halt construction of a transmission line at the Lake Cowal gold mine.

"This is a major victory for the indigenous Wiradjuri community, and a vindication for their tireless campaign to protect Lake Cowal," Ms Rhiannon said.

"The Greens hope this decision encourages indigenous communities across NSW to fight for their rights when developers and miners ignore proper process.

"The Carr Government has a track record of responding to Court decisions of this kind by introducing laws to quash the judges' ruling.

"In the interest of the rights and well-being of the Wiradjuri community and the local environment, the Greens urge the Premier to accept the Court's decision."

Ms Rhiannon also said she was looking forward to Parliament resuming debate on her Bill to ban cyanide leach mining this Tuesday.

"I will be seeking to resume debate on my bill to ban this environmentally destructive form of mining, and I hope Labor and the Coalition will support the debate.

"I call on Labor and the Coalition to make their position clear on my Bill by allowing the Parliamentary debate to take place, and I urge them to support the ban for all future gold and silver mines," Ms Rhiannon said.

Hans van Leeuwen Media Adviser Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon Parliament of NSW Macquarie St, Sydney 2000 T: (61 2) 9230 3551 F: (61 2) 9230 3550 M: 0425 310 562

Labor, Coalition stymie Bid to Ban Cyanide Mining

Media release - Greens

November 9, 2004

The Carr Government and Liberal-National Party Opposition today joined forces to defeat the Greens' proposed law to ban cyanide-based mining in New South Wales.

"Labor and the Coalition have revealed that they are prepared to risk cyanide spills on rural roads and environmental devastation at places like Lake Cowal," said Greens MP Lee Rhiannon, who proposed the Bill.

"Six thousand tonnes of cyanide will be transported to the site each year from Queensland to the edge of Lake Cowal, and the risk of an accident is high. But Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals are willing to expose country communities to that risk.

"Cyanide spills have devastated rivers and ecosystems around the world, including a seepage problem revealed just last week at Kalgoorlie. But Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals are willing to expose the NSW environment to that risk.

"New bio-leaching technologies that replace cyanide technology are now in use in Brazil, Peru, Ghana and Tasmania. There is a safe way to do

this mining, but Barrick, Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals are ignoring it.

"The gold mine at Lake Cowal will provide only short-term jobs, and many of those jobs will go to people from outside the Central West. The

Greens support long-term, sustainable jobs, rather than jobs at mining operations that jeopardise safety and the environment.

"The Nationals are out of touch with rural communities on this issue. Rural people want sustainable jobs, not band-aid solutions that endanger the health of communities and the environment.

"The Greens call on the Coalition and Labor to change their stance before NSW suffers the kind of cyanide accidents and disasters that have

blighted other communities around Australia and the world," Ms Rhiannon said.

Cyanide mining - a backgrounder

The National Party and Labor Party are making a number of false claims about cyanide leach mining and the Greens' effort to ban it.

1. Jobs

NATIONALS/LABOR CLAIM: Any move against cyanide mining will hurt employment in rural and regional Australia, particularly at the Lake

Cowal project.

THE FACTS: Many of the jobs associated with Lake Cowal will go to people from outside the Central West region, as the Environmental Impact Statement suggested. The jobs are short to medium-term, and not sustainable. The potential damage to the environment of Lake Cowal from a cyanide spill at the mine will affect long-term employment in the area.

2. Alternatives to cyanide

NATIONALS/LABOR CLAIM: Cyanide mining is the only viable technology for this kind of gold mine.

THE FACTS: This is entirely false. Bio-leaching is a cleaner, greener alternative and is already in use both overseas (Peru, Brazil, Ghana) and right here in Australia (Tasmania). The CSIRO is also conducting further research into thiosulfate leaching, another promising alternative to cyanide mining.

3. Barrick's record

NATIONALS/LABOR CLAIM: Barrick Gold has conducted an extensive study on the Cowal mine's environmental impacts, and can be trusted to do the right thing.

THE FACTS: Barrick is the half-owner of the Kalgoorlie Super Pit gold mine in Western Australia. In the past fortnight, an independent review has revealed that a large area around KSP's Fimiston 1 tailings dam has been affected by increased salinity, heavy metal contamination, cyanide contamination and elevated cyanide levels in groundwater. Other miners in the vicinity are now facing contamination issues and economic losses due to the environmental impact of the Fimiston dam, and some are calling for a judicial inquiry.

Hans van Leeuwen Media Adviser Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon Parliament of NSW Macquarie St, Sydney 2000 T: (61 2) 9230 3551 F: (61 2) 9230 3550 M: 0425 310 562

Government and Opposition vote against mine cyanide ban


November 10, 2004

The NSW Government and Opposition have both voted not to ban the use of cyanide in the state's mines.

The Greens introduced a bill into Parliament last month to ban the chemical that is to be used at a gold mine at Lake Cowal near West Wyalong.

The bill was unanimously defeated in the Upper House yesterday.

Greens' MLC Lee Rhiannon says the use of cyanide is an environmental disaster waiting to happen and the same company that is completing preliminary works at Lake Cowal has already had a spill at its mine in Western Australia.

Ms Rhiannon says the fight to ban cyanide in the state is not over yet.

"This debate isn't over, in Montana in the USA they have banned the use of cyanide in mining," she said.

"We've seen a spill...associated with the Barrick Gold Company that wants to mine gold at Lake Cowal, that occurred in Western Australia. It's a dangerous product, it should be banned when it comes to mining and the Greens will continue on this issue."

Cyanide Fears

By Suellen Hinde, Northern Territory News

November 21, 2004

Environmentalists and residents fear 500,000 litres of cyanide has been emptied into the Edith River from the abandoned Mt Todd mine site near Katherine.

Residents downstream from the mine say cyanide solution inside two of three storage tanks has been emptied out of the tanks by workers.

"The tanks are empty and have been moved for salvaging," one downstream resident said. "But no one knows where the cyanide is.

"That is what I have been told from someone working there.

"When the rains come this could cause enormous damage to fish and marine life -- and what about what it could do to the water we use for irrigation?"

The Territory Government Mines Department maintains the cyanide is still in storage tanks at the mine, which ceased operation in July 2000.

The third storage tank contains 400,000 litres of cyanide solution. There are plans to shift the contents of the third tank to a tailings dam.

"But that dam is leaking and with Wet rainfalls it overflows regularly," Environment Centre of the NT co-ordinator Peter Robertson said.

Mr Robertson said Edith River -- which flows into the Ferguson River and then the Daly River -- was under serious threat from cyanide, heavy metal and acid water pollution from the mine.

He said the handling of clean-up and rehabilitation was a fiasco and the mine was a toxic time bomb.

"Issues surrounding the clean-up of the Mt Todd mine near Katherine are so serious that an independent Commission of Inquiry under the NT Inquiries Act is needed to investigate and provide government and the public with a full, open and honest report," he said.

Mr Robertson said other issues included how to manage the massive stockpile of waste rock -- 40 million tonnes spread over 75ha -- which was causing "acid rock drainage" and has the potential to damage aquatic ecosystems and downstream water users.

The Government has admitted proper site rehabilitation would cost as much as $20 million.

Mines Department deputy director Richard Jackson said the cyanide tanks had been sold to salvagers Aussiequip Pty Ltd.

"We have no information that the cyanide has escaped to the environment and as far as we are concerned it is still in the tanks," Mr Jackson said.

He said removing the cyanide was very expensive so it "will more than likely be put into a tailings dam".

Aussiequip on-site manager Colin Freeman said the cyanide had not been moved.

"But it doesn't belong to us, it belongs to the Government -- we bought the tanks but not the cyanide," Mr Freeman said. "We are not responsible for it.

"We keep saying to them: 'remove it from the tanks'."

High court upholds cyanide ban

By Bob Anez, Associated Press Writer, Great Falls Tribune

9th June 2005

Helena - Montana's 7-year-old ban on using cyanide in gold mining did not violate the constitutional property rights of a company hoping to develop an open-pit mine near Lincoln, a unanimous Montana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The fact that Canyon Resources Corp.'s Seven-Up Pete Joint Venture just had the chance to develop state mineral leases for its mine did not give it a property right that could be taken away by passage of the ban, the justices said.

"We conclude, therefore, that the Venture's opportunity to seek a (state) permit, which required convincing the state that this cyanide leaching project was appropriate, did not constitute a property right," the court held. "The state had wide discretion to reject the Venture's permit application, even without enactment of I-137."

The ruling, which upheld a district judge's findings, did not resolve all the legal battles over voters' passage of Initiative 137 in the 1998 general election. Several federal court cases raising the same issue settled by the state's high court are pending.

But the Supreme Court's decision does lay to rest claims under the Montana Constitution, which prohibits the taking of personal property without compensation. Canyon Resources had argued that is what the cyanide ban did in halting plans for its gold mine.

A spokesman for the leading environmental group behind I-137 applauded the court's decision.

"It is quite clear that Montanans have a right to make laws to protect their water and air, and that doing so does not result in a loss of private property rights, especially when there is no private property right to begin with," said Jim Jensen, executive director of the Montana Environmental Information Center.

Jim Hesketh, president and chief executive officer of Canyon Resources, said he had not seen the ruling. But he did say the outcome was not surprising.

"It's been pretty tough to get a fair shake up there on any of this," he said.

Attorney General Mike McGrath agreed the ruling was no shocker, given Canyon Resources' legal stand.

"Their argument was fairly extreme, probably beyond the far edge of acceptable jurisprudence," he said. "So the opinion is not particularly surprising. It coincides with mainstream thinking across the country."

McGrath also said the ruling should prompt the company to abandon their federal claims. "My hope is that they will fold their tent. They will not have a stronger case in federal court than they had in state court."

Canyon Resources, a Colorado-based company, had argued that it acquired a property right to mine the land when it obtained mineral leases on state land and that its property - the value of the leases - was illegally taken away when the initiative rendered them worthless.

The company said it spent $70 million in developing the project since 1989 and tens of millions more were lost by being unable to mine the claim. It wanted to be paid for loss of the project. Although the lawsuit did not specify an amount, company officials said it could be $500 million.

The state contended the company had no operating permit to mine using cyanide when the ban was enacted so it had no property right that could be taken away by the initiative.

The Supreme Court agreed, saying someone cannot claim loss of a property right never possessed.

On another issue, the justices found I-137 did impair a "contractual relationship" between the state and mining company based on the assumption that cyanide would be used at the mine to separate gold from ore. But the result was not a violation of the constitution, because the ban was "based on the significant and legitimate public purpose of protecting the environment," Justice Jim Rice wrote for the court.

Given the concerns about risks involved in using cyanide in mining and the adequacy of existing laws, "we conclude that the state could legitimately determine that this method of mining required strict regulation, and that I-137 was reasonably related to that legitimate purpose," he said. Justice Brian Morris, who was state solicitor when he defended the law before the court in October 2003, did not participate in the decision.

Canyon Resources has had recent financial problems, losing $17.4 million last year as its stock price plummeted from $5.12 in January 2004 to 79 cents as of Wednesday.

The company spent about $3.5 million last year to promote a failed ballot measure repealing the cyanide ban.

Corte de Montana sostiene prohibición contra el cianuro

Por Bob Anez, Associated Press Writer, Great Falls Tribune

9 de junio de 2005

Helena - La Corte Suprema de Justicia del Estado de Montana (Estados Unidos) determinó por unanimidad que la prohibición estatal contra el uso de cianuro en la minería de oro, vigente desde hace 7 años, no violó derechos de propiedad constitucionales de una compañía que pretendía desarrollar una mina de oro a cielo abierto en Lincoln.

"El estado tiene la discrecionalidad como para rechazar el proyecto, incluso sin la vigencia de la iniciativa I-137", afirma la Corte en su resolución.

El vocero de uno de los grupos ambientalistas que apoyó la iniciativa I-137 (que prohibió el uso de cianuro) aplaudió la decisión de la Corte. "Está claro que los montaneses tiene el derecho de hacer leyes para proteger su agua y su aire, y que hacerlo no constituye una pérdida de derechos sobre la propiedad privada, especialmente si no hay una propiedad privada en primer lugar" dijo Jim Jensen, director ejecutivo de la organización Montana Environmental Information Center.

La compañía minera Canyon Resources, con base en Colorado, argumentó que obtuvo un derecho de propiedad para explotar el territorio cuando se le otorgaron conseciones mineras, y que su propiedad fue tomada ilegalmente cuando la iniciativa anti-cianuro, aprobada en 1998, volvió inútiles esas conseciones. La compañía asegura haber invertido 70 millones de dólares en el desarrollo del proyecto.

Dadas las preocupaciones acerca de los riesgos involucrados en el uso de cianuro en la minería, y la adecuación de leyes existentes, "concluimos que el Estados puede determinar legítimamente que éste método de explotación requiere una regulación estricta, y que la iniciativa I-137 esta razonablemente relacionada con ese propósito legítimo".

Canyon Resources gastó cerca de 3 millones y medio de dólares para promover una iniciativa popular de rechazo a la prohibición de cianuro el año pasado, que finalmente fracasó.

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