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Groups push to resume enforcement in Montana mining dispute involving Hecla president

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 13, 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2010, file photo, tThe snowcapped Cabinet Mountains tower over the lush Kootenai River Valley outside of Libby, Mont., in February 2010. Montana environmental regulators want to dismiss a legal case that sought to block the president of a Coeur d'Alene-based Hecla Mining Co. from being involved in two silver and copper mines near and beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.  (Associated Press)
FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2010, file photo, tThe snowcapped Cabinet Mountains tower over the lush Kootenai River Valley outside of Libby, Mont., in February 2010. Montana environmental regulators want to dismiss a legal case that sought to block the president of a Coeur d'Alene-based Hecla Mining Co. from being involved in two silver and copper mines near and beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

Associated Press

BILLINGS – Environmental groups have filed notice they plan to sue Gov. Greg Gianforte’s administration after it dropped a legal claim against a mining executive over decades of pollution from several mines.

Under Gianforte, the Department of Environmental Quality in July quit a 2018 lawsuit that sought to block Coeur d’Alene-based Hecla Mining Co. and its president, Phillips Baker Jr., from involvement in two proposed silver and copper mines.

Baker was an executive with Pegasus Gold, which went bankrupt in 1998, leaving state and federal agencies with more than $50 million in cleanup costs at three mines.

A state “bad actor” law enacted in the wake of the Pegasus bankruptcy punishes companies and their executives who don’t clean up mining pollution.

In explaining the move to drop the case, DEQ director Chris Dorrington said at the time that it was highly unlikely the litigation would have resulted in cleanup cost reimbursement.

But environmental groups said the state’s actions under Gianforte, a Republican who took office in January, were politically motivated and illegal.

If officials don’t reverse course and resume enforcing the bad actor law, “we will sue,” said Shiloh Hernandez, an attorney representing the Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks and several other groups.

Representatives of Hecla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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