Groups push to resume enforcement in Montana mining dispute involving Hecla president

<p><p>Associated Press</p></p><p><p>BILLINGS – Environmental groups have filed notice they plan to sue Gov. Greg Gianforte’s administration after it dropped a legal claim against a mining executive over decades of pollution from several mines.</p></p><p><p>Under Gianforte, the Department of Environmental Quality in July quit a 2018 lawsuit that sought to block Coeur d’Alene-based Hecla Mining Co. and its president, Phillips Baker Jr., from involvement in two proposed silver and copper mines.</p></p><p><p>Baker was an executive with Pegasus Gold, which went bankrupt in 1998, leaving state and federal agencies with more than $50 million in cleanup costs at three mines.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>In explaining the move to drop the case, DEQ director Chris Dorrington said at the time that it was highly unlikely the litigation would have resulted in cleanup cost reimbursement.</p></p><p><p>But environmental groups said the state’s actions under Gianforte, a Republican who took office in January, were politically motivated and illegal.</p></p><p><p>If officials don’t reverse course and resume enforcing the bad actor law, “we will sue,” said Shiloh Hernandez, an attorney representing the Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks and several other groups.</p></p><p><p>Representatives of Hecla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.</p></p>