AG Fox joins Montana to lawsuit defending state mining laws from EPA proposal

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox

Attorney General Tim Fox joined Montana to a lawsuit involving a coalition of states looking to rebuff a draft rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requiring hard rock mining companies to post a minimum reclamation bond.

Fox, who joined the lawsuit on Friday, said Montana already has strong environmental protections for hard rock mining and further federal regulations aren’t needed. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality also has voiced opposition to the EPA’s proposed rule.

“As DEQ made clear in its comments to the EPA, Montana has strong environmental protections regulating hard rock mining operations in the state and further regulation is unnecessary,” Fox said. “The plaintiffs’ position is counterproductive and ignores the lawful role of the states in implementing environmental regulations.”

In February 2017, the EPA proposed a draft rule that would establish nationwide minimum reclamation bonding requirements for hard rock mining under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA.

In a response letter submitted in July 2017, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality said it currently regulates bonding requirements for mining operations in the state. If the EPA enacted its rule, the state agency said, it would replace Montana’s existing regulations.

“No known gap in Montana practice and protection has been identified or would be corrected with creation of this rule,” wrote Christopher Dorrington, administrator of the state’s Air, Energy and Mining Division. “Montana also opposes the creation and imposition of a one-size-fits-all approach that fails to improve upon existing protections enacted by the state.”

Fox said the EPA sided with Montana in February of this year, opting not to issue the rule mandating national bonding limits for hard rock mining operations. The Sierra Club and the Idaho Conservation League filed suit in federal court, however, challenging the EPA’s decision.

Montana is joined by Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, South Dakota, South Carolina and Michigan in defending the EPA’s decision not to issue the proposed rule.