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Hecla, Baker sued again over mine cleanup

| November 24, 2021 12:00 AM

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana tribes and conservation groups sued state environmental regulators Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte's administration dropped a legal claim against a mining executive over decades of pollution from several mines.

The lawsuit was filed in state district court in Lewis and Clark County by attorneys for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Montana Environmental Information Center and other groups.

Under Gianforte, the Department of Environmental Quality in July 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.

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.

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.

DEQ director Chris Dorrington said at the time that it was highly unlikely the litigation would have resulted in cleanup cost reimbursement. But critics say the decision to quit the claims against Hecla and Baker was politically motivated.