By Missoula Current

A Missoula representative is looking to increase the bonds that mines post as a guarantee of future cleanup and reclamation, and it aims to protect the Smith River in particular.

House Bill 593, sponsored by Rep. Nate McConnell, D-Missoula, would enhance the state’s tools for fighting the environmental contamination caused by mining activity.

A Montana House committee is set to consider the legislation on Monday.

“In every major mine in Montana that has run its course and closed, the reclamation bond has been inadequate, leaving taxpayers with the costs of cleaning up the mess,” McConnell said. “We can’t risk the catastrophic consequences another major mine could have on the Smith River or other natural treasures in our state.”

HB 593 would increase by 50 percent the bonds that mines extracting certain ores must post to guarantee the funding of future cleanup and reclamation. It also calls on the state to audit permitted mines and publicly post the audits online.

The bill covers new mines across the state, but McConnell said the bill particularly aims to protect the prized Smith River, a major draw for recreational floaters and one of the crown jewels of Montana’s state parks system.

McConnell said the river's future is threatened by potential contamination from a large copper mine proposed near its headwaters in Meagher County.

The proposed Black Butte Copper mine near White Sulphur Springs, owned by a Canada-based multinational mining corporation, is comprised of high-sulfide ore. Such mines can lead to highly acidic discharge, jeopardizing the downstream environment, McConnell said.

House Bill 593 comes before the House Natural Resources Committee on Monday, March 20.