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State regulators are showing some real moxie in their efforts to bar the executive of a former polluting mining company from opening any new mines in the state.

That’s encouraging. History suggests regulators have been quite lax in allowing miners to pollute and saddle taxpayers with cleanup costs.

Department of Environmental Quality officials filed suit this week asking a judge to bar Hecla Mining Co. CEO Phillips S. Baker Jr. from opening any new mines in the state under Montana’s “bad actor” law. Baker was chief financial officer of Pegasus Mining when the firm filed for bankruptcy, leaving the state with tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs. Hecla has proposed opening a pair mines in the northwestern corner of the state near the Idaho border.

The DEQ had ruled Phillips was barred from mining activity in the state in March. Hecla sued the state in response. The suit filed by state officials Monday asks the court to underscore the DEQ’s ruling.

This is a refreshing change from what’s gone on in the past, when mining regulators appeared to be sympathetic to the companies they monitor, often with disastrous consequences. State agencies are either cleaning up or monitoring thousands of abandoned mining sites at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to state taxpayers. Mining companies are required to provide bonding to cover cleanup costs in the event of a company financial failure. But those bonds have often only covered a fraction of the actual costs.

It’s interesting to note that activists have qualified a ballot initiative for the November election that would require mining companies to prove their operations will not saddle the state with perpetual cleanup costs before any new projects can be permitted.

Montana’s status as a colony to be exploited by out-of-state mining companies must be erased. Tourism and high-tech industries are supplanting extractive industries as the state’s main economic drivers. The days when mining companies permanently deface landscapes and walk away must end.

And government regulators need to affirm they are working for the people of Montana and not the companies they regulate. They must ensure companies will be held strictly and completely accountable for the damage they inflict or deny permits for proposed mines.


Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Charles Rinker, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, either leave a comment on the page below or write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.