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2024 Montana Primary elections
Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

Group sues the state for records on DOJ's communications with mining company

Libby Dam on Lake Koocanusa in northwest Montana.
Libby Dam on Lake Koocanusa in northwest Montana.

The Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) is blocking access to what it calls privileged documents showing its communication with a Canadian mining company. An environmental group is now suing to access the information.

The Montana Environmental Information Center (MECI) said Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office unlawfully denied a records request for information that could show how the DOJ is communicating with a mining company that is polluting Montana waters.

MEIC Deputy Director Derf Johnson spoke on the matter.

“In Montana, we have a fundamental right to access government documents and correspondence,” Johnson said.

Knudsen’s office last year intervened in a legal dispute between the state’s environmental regulators and a separate environmental review board.

The issue: whether the state properly allowed public participation in 2020 when it passed a more stringent selenium standard for Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River in order to protect fish populations.

Knudsen sided with arguments from the board and mining company, Teck Resources, that said the state failed to follow the law. The groups said the selenium rule should revert to the previous higher standard.

Knudsen’s office called MEIC’s request a “weaponization of the Public Records Act.” A spokesperson said communication between the office and Teck Resources is privileged because MEIC also intervened in the lawsuit over the 2020 selenium rule.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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