BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana's Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that canceled state regulator approval of mining on private land north of Yellowstone National Park.
The unanimous ruling found that state lawmakers violated the state Constitution with a 2011 law that prevented district court judges from blocking projects approved by regulators, even if environmental harms were expected.
Lucky Minerals has been seeking since 2015 to explore for gold, copper and other metals near Chico Hot Springs, about 15 miles north of the park in a portion of Montana that drains into the Yellowstone River.
The Department of Environmental Quality approved the Vancouver-based company's Emigrant Creek project in 2017.
After environmentalists sued, the company's mining license was invalidated by a Park County judge in 2019. That prompted state and company officials to appeal to the Supreme Court to restore the license.
Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote in the court's 47-page opinion on Tuesday that further reviews were needed of how road improvements for the mine would affect wildlife such as grizzly bears and wolverines. The ruling also upheld the lower court move to strike down the exploration license.
McGrath said the 2011 law that restricted courts from blocking projects even if environmental issues aren't resolved went against the constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment.
Allowing mining to proceed while those issues were still being addressed is "perhaps analogous to a mandatory aircraft inspection after takeoff," McGrath wrote.
Lucky Minerals' representatives did not immediately respond to questions for comment.
Bozeman attorney Jenny Harbine, who argued the case for Earthjustice on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the ruling was a reminder of the limits on the Legislature that prevent it from depriving the people of Montana of a clean environment.