Montana Gold-Mining Cyanide Issue Is Back


"A Montana senator aims to allow new mines to process ore within the state."

A Montana state senator has introduced a bill aimed at allowing any open-pit gold or silver mine to process their ore at Barrick's Golden Sunlight mine in his senate district in Jefferson County, Montana.

Golden Sunlight's use of cyanide in mining processes was grandfathered in when Montana voters enacted a 12-year-old ban on cyanide leach open-pit gold and silver mining in the state.

During recent testimony before the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, said the measured is not intended to repeal the ban on cyanide chemical processes in Montana mining, but is aimed at increasing tax revenue in hardrock mining counties.

"These mining operations are responsible for a significant portion of funding for schools," he said.

However, the chief of Montana's Environmental Management Bureau told the committee the track record of cyanide heap leaching in the state "can only be described as abysmal."

Montana voters approved a ballot initiative in November 1988 which banned the recovery of gold and silver in new mining projects that would use cyanide heap leaching. They subsequently rejected a second ballot initiative aimed at repealing the ban.

The Montana Supreme Court refused to overturn the cyanide initiative while the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Murphy's bill also states, "A mine [specifically the Golden Sunlight] described in this section operating on November 3, 1998, may continue operating under its existing operating permit or any amended permit that is necessary for the continued operation in the mine."

Opponents of SB306 contend the bill could cost taxpayers millions in environmental cleanup costs.

Warren McCullough, chief of the Montana's Environmental Bureau, told the Senate committee that state and federal government are still stuck with the clean-up of four former cyanide heap leach mines.

No further action has yet been taken on SB306.

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