Montana Environmental Information Center v. Montana Department of Environmental Quality
Hecla Mining Company and its subsidiaries want to develop two industrial silver and copper mines––the Montanore and Rock Creek projects––beneath northwest Montana’s Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. Environmental organizations, in just one of a series of legal challenges to protect high-quality designated resource waters and unique bull trout and grizzly bear habitat, brought an action seeking a declaration that Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s issuance of a permit for the Montanore Project was unlawful. The Montana Supreme Court, in a four-member majority, affirmed the district court’s vacatur and remanded the case to the state agency for further proceedings. The decision is celebrated by environmental groups as a victory to ensure that mines are permitted under Montana’s contemporary water quality standards and nondegradation policy. However, the Court likely created an unclear test to determine a mine’s operational life.