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Montana Supreme Court rules in favor of Black Butte Mine

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled in favor of state environmental regulators' decision to permit a copper mine near White Sulphur Springs. In a 5-2 vote, the Supreme Court overruled a lower court decision that had revoked mining company Tintina’s state permits for the Black Butte Mine.

The state’s highest court ruled that the Department of Environmental Quality satisfied mining and environmental regulation requirements when deciding to grant the permits.

Conservation groups Trout Unlimited and the Montana Environmental Information Center originally filed suit over the permits for failing to address the mine’s environmental impacts.

David Brooks, Trout Unlimited’s Executive Director, said this ruling shows Montana’s Environmental Protection Act is too weak to allow agencies to deny permits.

“DEQ in this case takes a look at the mine proposal and the research the company has done or contracted to have done, that seems to be sufficient, even though there's good evidence that this mine would pose a serious risk to water quality and quantity.”

The groups are worried about the potential for acid mine drainage, where water containing toxic materials from the mine leaks out of containment areas.

The spillover can destroy water resources, which the groups are particularly concerned about given the mine’s proximity to Sheep Creek, and the Smith River.

Although the high court’s ruling is the final determination in this case, another suit challenging the mine’s water rights is yet to be decided. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in that case at the end of March.

Copyright 2024 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Ellis Juhlin