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Environmental Groups Sue Over Mining Exploration Near Yellowstone

Emigrant Peak north of Yellowstone, near the area of a proposed Lucky Minerals mine exploration.
Flickr user Sean Wolf (CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0)
Emigrant Peak north of Yellowstone, near the area of a proposed Lucky Minerals mine exploration.

Environmental groups today sued the state of Montana, attempting to block a mining company’s plans to begin exploring for gold and other precious metals in the mountains just north of Yellowstone National Park.

Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality gave Lucky Minerals approval in July to begin their search for minerals the Paradise Valley north of Yellowstone. The proposed drill site is on about eight acres of private land in the mountains southeast of Emigrant.

In the lawsuit filed today, Jenny Harbine with Earth Justice says Montana DEQ’s study of the environmental impact of the drilling exploration was not extensive enough.  

“DEQ needed to evaluate thoroughly, not just the impact of the exploration project,  including harms to water quality and wildlife, but also the threats that are posed to the Park County’s natural resources and economy from whole scale mining,” she said.

Earth Justice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Park County Environmental Council and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, in the Montana district court in Livingston. The suit claims that state officials and the Canadian company Lucky Minerals did not fully comply with the Montana Environmental Policy Act. But Kristi Ponozzo, the public policy director for Montana DEQ, says a robust study of the proposed drilling’s environmental impact began in 2015.

“We looked at wildlife, soils, vegetation, culture and historical properties, water quality, geothermal impacts, transportation, social economics, noise and other impacts, including recreation. We determined that there were no significant impacts," she said. "That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any impacts at all, it just doesn’t meet the significant criteria laid out in the Montana Environmental Policy Act. ”

Ponozzo says Lucky Minerals has promised to remediate the impact of their exploration, if and when the company completes the project.

Lucky Mineral's plan to search for precious metals in the Emigrant Creek area will include up to 46 exploratory drill holes. The DEQ approved Lucky to drill on the site over the span of 2 years. The state permit  allows  the company to start exploring  as soon as it posts a 150 thousand dollar bond.

The mining company says the project could yield a world class size mineral deposit of a billion tons.

Just under a year ago, then Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell walked along the Emigrant Creek to announce a temporary pause on mining projects on federal land in the area.

”We all need minerals and I approached that, but that fact that there are minerals here does not mean it is appropriate to mine them," she said. "That is not necessarily the highest and best use of these landscapes.”

Lucky Minerals’ mining site is on private land and not impacted by the temporary mining ban.

However, at the time of then-Secretary Jewell’s announcement, last November, Lucky Minerals Vice President Shaun Dykes saw it as an attempt to discourage all mining in the area – something then Secretary Jewell acknowledged as true.

Current Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also supports the proposal to block new mining claims on federal land in the area north of Yellowstone.

A spokeswoman from Zinke’s office told the Associated Press last month that Zinke wants to move forward with a proposed 20-year withdrawal of future mining claims in the area and “some places are too precious to mine.”

Lucky Minerals Vice President Shaun Dykes did not respond to Montana Public Radio’s call this afternoon.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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