I-186 will hurt counties and communities

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Guest Column

From its founding as a railroad town in 1882 to our current, natural resource-based economy, Billings has a long history of supporting natural resource development and mining. And with the Stillwater Mine located just a stone’s throw away from Billings, we are keenly aware of the positive impacts that mining, and the jobs it provides, has on our local economy.

Unfortunately, some out-of-state groups have chosen to ignore the tremendous benefits we receive from mining and desire to shut down the future of mining in Montana. I-186, their latest attempt to accomplish this goal, is on the ballot this November.

These extremist groups, which include Earthworks, a D.C. based environmental activist group that has been trying to shut down mining in Montana for decades, have formed what they misleadingly call the “Yes for Responsible Mining” campaign to trick Montana voters into supporting I-186.

They claim that Montana’s existing mine permitting laws need fixed. That our water ways need protected. That mines are polluting across our state. But their claims couldn’t be further from the truth.

Not only have supporters of I-186 ignored the benefits of mining, but they have completely disregarded our existing regulatory framework that strictly enforces safe and responsible mining in our state. No mine in the state of Montana is allowed to discharge polluted water. Not one. Their claims to the contrary are completely baseless.

Montana’s mining laws and environmental protections are second to none and are seen as the pinnacle of success when it comes to balancing mining and protecting the environment. Montana has worked extraordinarily hard to strike that balance, and I-186 would upend it all. By inserting ambiguous language into our existing law, I-186 would not only make it next to impossible to obtain a permit, but it would open the door to frivolous and unnecessary litigation. As a result, mining companies aren’t going to be able to do business in Montana, and Montana families and communities will be the ones to pay the price.

Each year, mining generates $2.7 billion in economic activity in Montana and supports over 12,000 high-wage jobs. New projects that would be impacted by I-186 could generate another $450 million in economic activity and create 3,531 new jobs in our state—but not if I-186 passes.

The impact of I-186 will also be detrimental to local governments. Currently, mining generates nearly $200 million revenue annually for state and local governments. This revenue not only helps fund critical infrastructure projects, but it pays our teachers, supports our schools, and ensures that our law enforcement and first responders have the tools they need to keep our communities safe.

The revenue from mining supports communities across our state, which is why the Montana Association of Counties recently passed a resolution declaring their steadfast support of mining. Their resolution stating they, “believe responsible mining is a cornerstone of Montana’s economy and passage of laws that unduly and negatively impact mining operations or encourage unnecessary litigation will harm the economic interests of Montana communities” highlights just how important mining is to every part of Montana—and how dangerous passing I-186 would be for the economy of our state.

I-186 is an underhanded attempt to kill future mining in Montana, and it is clear that is provides no benefit to Montanans. I hope you join me in voting ‘No’ on I-186.

John Ostlund is a Yellowstone County Commissioner.