BILLINGS – Conservation groups are suing Gov. Greg Gianforte’s administration to obtain records related to its decision to drop legal claims against a mining executive over decades of pollution from several mines.
The groups, Earthworks and Montana Environmental Information Center, filed the lawsuit Tuesday, March 15 in state district court in Lewis and Clark County. They said they’ve been seeking the records since late November.
Gianforte spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said the governor’s office fulfills records requests in the order they are received and is fulfilling the groups’ request on that basis.
After Gianforte took office, his Republican administration quit a legal action that sought to block Idaho-based Hecla Mining Co. and its president, Phillips Baker Jr., from involvement in two proposed silver and copper mines in northwest Montana.
Baker was an executive with Pegasus Gold, which went bankrupt in 1998, leaving state and federal agencies with tens of million in cleanup costs at several mines, including the Zortman and Landusky mines near the Fort Belknap reservation.
A state “bad actor” law enacted in the wake of the Pegasus bankruptcy punishes companies and their executives who don’t clean up mining pollution. Under the law, companies and their senior leaders can’t receive new mining permits until they’ve reimbursed the state for past cleanup costs.
A separate legal challenge is pending against state officials for allegedly failing to follow that law.