Policy Watch

Opponents of a proposed mine just north of Yellowstone National Park in Montana’s Paradise Valley won a key legal victory when Park County Judge Brenda Gilbert ruled that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) must conduct a more extensive environmental review before issuing a gold mining exploration permit.

Lucky Minerals, Inc. wants to search for gold in Emigrant Gulch, but the proposed project has generated opposition from an assortment of Montana groups. The decision is the latest development in a lawsuit filed by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Park County Environmental Council in 2017.

The decision of the court holds the DEQ acted improperly but does not necessarily halt the exploration. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the decision does not void Lucky’s exploration license, which could still allow the project to commence as early as July 15. It is also unclear whether the DEQ or Lucky will appeal. Vice-President Shaun Dykes told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that Lucky’s Board of Directors would decide how to proceed in coming days.

Legislative tactics are also being used by opponents to mining in the region. In April 2017, Senator Jon Tester introduced the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, which would ban mining permanently on public lands in the region. Currently, there is a two-year moratorium on mining public lands in the region, announced by the Obama Administration in 2016. These initiatives do not directly impact exploration on private lands but could impact the viability of any full-scale mining.

The Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act’s House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) received a Hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on June 21, 2018, that you can watch here. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gosar opened the hearing with a statement in general opposition to any form of mineral withdrawals but offered respect for Rep. Gianforte’s effort in listening to local businesses and by seeking to address this matter in Congress, rather than through executive action or action through DOI. Rep. Gosar mentioned President Trump’s visit to Duluth and announcement revoking a mineral withdrawal in Minnesota. Several other members besides Rep. Gianforte spoke in favor of the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act, including ranking member Rep. Lowenthal (D-Calif.); demonstrating the bipartisan support for this legislation.

ASA, as part of the Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition, was glad to see another member of YGBC appear as a witness during the hearing. Colin Davis, the owner of Chico Hot Springs in Montana, provided testimony in favor of the bill.

With bipartisan support of this legislation to withdraw mineral leases next to our nation’s first national park, as well as support from Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and many local Yellowstone businesses, ASA is hopeful that the significance of this amazing western sportfishing destination continues to be highlighted and taken seriously as potential adjacent mining projects are proposed.

For more information, please contact Policy Fellow, Ashley Brinkman.