By Mark Thompson
Someone once asked me why I am involved with the Montana Mining Association. In my typical fashion, I made a short answer quite long. I told this person that my son was working in the oil fields of North Dakota, and that his childhood best friend from Butte was working at a coal mine in Gillette, Wyoming. Both were able to find meaningful employment outside of Montana. It sickens me that our state exports Montana’s sons and daughters so that they may find family wage jobs and careers. I want to do what I can to provide my son the opportunities that I have had so that he may live in Montana and raise a family as I did.
There is great value in natural resource development and the kind of jobs they afford. Oil, gas, timber, mining and manufacturing created the middleclass. And since I don’t know much about oil or timber, the Mining Association was it for me; my way to fight for the jobs and opportunities that keep us from sending our kids out of state. I say “fight” because it’s these industries, those that come from the ground, that are under attack by movements like the “Keep it in the Ground” campaign, and the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ being waged by rule makers.
In early 2011, I sat and listened to then MMA president, Tim Dimock, testify in front of a special legislative hearing on economic development. The message he carried to those lawmakers was not one of doom and gloom for the existing operations, although he conceded that mineral deposits were finite, and eventually even the greatest resources will play out. His concern for the longevity of our industry was that there were an insufficient number of advanced exploration projects in the “pipeline” to sustain the industry, and that Montana needed to send a stronger message to the national and international investment community that we were “open for business”. That year, the legislature passed SB 306, a bill that provided “clarification” of the cyanide ban for open pit mining; a powerful message from the lawmakers that may have benefited the mining industry. Unfortunately, the bill was branded with a veto stamp, yet another powerful message to the investment community, to miners, and our sons and daughters.
In concept, I had a thorough understanding of the messages that Tim, the Legislature, and our former Governor were sending for all to hear, but it was not until this past year that I actually understood the impact of those messages, those which resulted in layoffs across Montana’s mining industry; 119 at Stillwater, 205 at Troy, and 140 at Golden Sunlight. Our brother and sister miners don’t have new mining operations in Montana to move onto, not yet. We’ll be lucky if they hold on for opportunities which remain in the hands of the regulatory agencies.
Montana’s mining industry is resilient. It has, after all, been around since before statehood as one of the most powerful economic engines in our state. And through the darkness that has put a damper on industry optimism for mining across the country, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A new application for a Mining Operation Permit was submitted just before the end of December. Talk about a nice Christmas present. Up in the Northwest corner of the state, two long fought battles wage on, in hopes of finally putting into development two large mineral deposits. And elsewhere around the state, members of ours are proposing expansions of their existing operations and there is some limited exploration being conducted or planned.
It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. The road ahead may be rocky, the future uncertain. But for the same reason that I got involved with the MMA to begin with, I’ll keep fighting the good fight with all of you. We owe it to ourselves, to our families, and to our state to continue to stay involved, active, and coalesced as an Association.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your President.