Miners and Montana were too cozy

  • Kevin Keenan

    Courtesy Kevin Keenan

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

During Kevin Keenan's 24 years as a water-quality enforcer for the state of Montana, he often criticized the agencies for favoring the mining companies. In 1995, he retired because, "I knew my career was over. I was left out of enforcement issues for a year before I left." He now works for PEER, the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, in Helena.

Kevin Keenan: "When we were trying to settle the Zortman-Landusky case, we had to actually put place cards at the table at negotiation sessions or our management would sit with the mining companies. That's the depth of the sympathy with the Company. Think what that does to the legitimate process of negotiation! We can't talk to our own supervisory staff without pulling them out of the room.

"The mining company wanted the state to sue (and not the federal government). So it drafted the state's complaint with no specific penalties in it. It was a corruption of the legitimate process of environmental regulation. The only reason (the complaint was valid) was that the counsel for the department literally stayed up for 48 hours after the draft came from the company, converting it into a legitimate judicial complaint. Then it reflected the body of violations from the files.

"There was clearly evidence in the custody of certain departments of state government that showed violations of water quality. Did any particular person in state government know? ... Well, if data was in custody, it was the responsibility of government to become aware.

"I had meetings with (Pegasus) in that time frame because they constantly Xeroxed the document that said they had no discharge. Month after month. I told them, 'It doesn't sound like significant examination has taken place.' They told Gov. Racicot, 'We're getting out of Montana. We're going to South America, where we can really operate.'"