Opponents Of Montana Mine Waste Initiative Rally In Butte

Oct 25, 2018

Campaign contributions in the fight over Montana ballot initiative 186 have roughly doubled over the last month, most of that money is backing opponents of the initiative’s proposed new regulations on mining. MTPR's Nora saks reports from one of their events in Butte. 

On Wednesday night, Matt Vincent was busy hanging up a banner outside Butte Brewing Company, reading “Stop I-186!” in preparation for an event called “Eat, Drink, Save Mining!"

Inside, Vincent said he’s an environmental and political consultant.

“One of my key clients is Montana Resources here in Butte, America, the Mining City.”

Montana Resources owns the active copper mine in town. The mine’s owners and employees have been heavily involved in the fight to stop I-186 - which would require new hardrock mines to file plans showing they won’t require perpetual treatment of wastewater.

I186 requires the DEQ to deny a permit for any new hardrock mines in Montana unless the reclamation plan provides clear and convincing evidence that the mine won't require perpetual treatment of water polluted by acid mine drainage or other contaminants.

That campaign is primarily bankrolled by the Montana Mining Association, which says I-186 threatens future mining in the state. They’ve raised nearly $5 million on efforts to defeat it, more than half of that coming since the end of September.

That’s about triple what I-186’s proponents have raised — a little over $1.5 million. The Virginia-based Trout Unlimited and its Montana chapters remain the largest backers of the Yes For Responsible Mining campaign. They say I-186 is crucial to ensure clean water in the future.

Matt Vincent says the Stop I-186 campaigners are busy throwing events like this one in college towns across Western Montana, offering free pizza, beer and a presentation on the ballot issue.

“Tonight’s a big deal, I think, for Montana Tech. The outcome of this election as it relates to I-186 is gonna largely determine those graduates' ability to get a job in Montana," Vincent says.

Here at the Butte brewery, I found only staunch opponents of the initiative, like Joe and Robin Schwartzman. I asked them what kind of impact they think this issue will have on voter turnout.

“I hope it’s huge," Joe says. 

"And I think it’s huge," Robin says. "Because the friends I talk to are definitely involved and ready to vote."

"We even see people taking stands against companies who are standing for this," Joe says. "They won’t support them anymore. So there is a strong side to this, I just hope it’s large enough.”

Stop I-186 continues its voter outreach events with upcoming stops in Philipsburg, Dillon and Missoula.