With I-186 on the ballot in November, a proposal that imposes greater restrictions on the development of hardrock mining in Montana, questions are being raised about its economic impact, given that hardrock mining is one of Montana’s most important basic industries.
Requirements for Permits and Reclamation Plans of New Hard Rock Mines Initiative (I-186) would impose new requirements for a hard rock mine permits based on standards for water quality in land restoration plans. It would require the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to deny permits for any new hard rock mines if the mine’s reclamation plan does not “contain measures sufficient to prevent the pollution of water without the need for perpetual treatment.”
Opponents argue that the measure would effectively end mining in Montana and result in job losses and economic damage. They claim that Montana has the most restrictive requirements for reclamation as it is and that the requirements of I-186 are unnecessary and result only in making it economically unfeasible to mine in Montana.
The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research took a hard look at the economics of mining in the state and recently issued a resort that concludes, “The hardrock mining industry in Montana is an important source of jobs, income, sales revenue and tax revenue for Montana workers, households, businesses and governments. The eight largest producers of metals, talc, and concrete products today ultimately support more than 12,000 jobs statewide with average annual earnings of over $86,030.
“Many of those jobs are in smaller towns and rural communities with few, if any, opportunities in other industries for those workers and their families. Additionally, if three mines currently under consideration – the Rock Creek, Montanore, and Black Butte mines – were to be successfully developed and operated, the economy would stand to gain more than 3,000 jobs and $450 million per year in personal income. The question of how mining activities can sustainably support the jobs, income flows and revenues detailed in this report has not been directly addressed in this discussion. But it underpins all of the finding of this report. Simply put, Montana’s raw materials have tremendous value in the global marketplace. The process of finding, extracting, and processing those materials, and ultimately turning them into the wide spectrum of products that improve our lives is a chain of events that begins here, and in some cases, ends up all around the world.