GYC files court challenge against unlawful mining permit

Our lawyer filed a challenge in a Montana district court today, to put teeth into last week’s victorious lawsuit and to keep a fly-by-night Canadian mining company from exploring for gold at Yellowstone’s northern gateway.

 Anglers fishing the Yellowstone River with Emigrant Gulch in the background. We are continuing to fight the Canadian company that plans to explore for gold here this summer. (Photo Bill Campbell.)

Anglers fishing the Yellowstone River with Emigrant Gulch in the background. We are continuing to fight the Canadian company that plans to explore for gold here this summer. (Photo Bill Campbell.)

Earthjustice today filed what’s called a constitutional challenge in the Park County District Court, because even though the Court agreed with us last week and ruled that Lucky Minerals’s exploration permit is illegal, a wrinkle in Montana law means that Lucky Minerals can still move forward with drilling in Emigrant Gulch in July.

If this sounds confusing to you, you’re not alone. Typically, when a court rules that a permit  was issued unlawfully, that permit is set aside and it isn’t valid to use. But in 2011, the Montana Legislature made big changes to Montana’s environmental laws, including changing what happens when a permit is ruled illegal. Under the 2011 changes, if a court says a permit was illegally issued, the permit is still valid. And the best the court can do is to send the review document (in this case the review for Lucky’s permit) back to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for a do-over.

So the absurd result of these changes is that Lucky can use its illegal permit to begin drilling in July, and they can continue drilling, all while DEQ is back at the drawing board reconsidering the drilling.

It doesn’t make sense to us, which is why we’ve filed this constitutional challenge. We’re asking the District Court judge to agree with us that the 2011 way of doing business with illegal permits is unconstitutional in this case. Our challenge could set a precedent in Montana.

The judge could rule as soon as mid-July, but her decision will also be subject to an appeal that would end up at the Montana Supreme Court. We are committed to seeing this through and to doing whatever it takes to keep Lucky Minerals from risking Yellowstone’s northern gateway and the thriving local economy. We’ll keep you posted. Thank you for supporting our work to keep mines away from Yellowstone!

-- Joe Josephson, Montana Conservation Associate