While Crown Butte Mining Inc. already owns patented land within the Gallatin National Forest, it needs additional land for its mill and waste rock. That need has set into motion the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires study of environmental and social impacts of the operation.


The mining company is footing the bill for the environmental impact statement - $1.5 million so far - while both the Forest Service and Montana's Department of Environmental Quality are preparing what will probably become a 750-page document. State staffer Mike Da Silva says Yellowstone Park's 100 pages of comments will be incorporated into the EIS.


Park Superintendent Michael Finley, however, worries that the EIS may sacrifice quality for "an artificial deadline. We have very few options outside public education and understanding and the political process," he says.


That process appears to be working for him at the moment.


The Wyoming Legislature recently passed a law bringing Crown Butte under the jurisdiction of the state's Industrial Siting Act, if the firm decides to abandon the controversial high-altitude impoundment and truck its wastes to Wyoming. And the U.S. House of Representatives' Forests and Lands Subcommittee will hold hearings on a bill that would block the mine by creating a national recreation area in the New World Mining District.


On the other hand, the area's congressional delegations are mostly hedging their bets. Montana Sen. Conrad Burns is waiting for the draft EIS to emerge this June "and thinks others should not scuttle the process," according to Matt Raymond, his press secretary. Kurt Rush, a staffer for Montana Sen. Max Baucus, says the senator "is skeptical of the ability of the company or the Forest Service and the state to meet what must be a high threshold of environmental quality."


In other congressional action, a proposal to cancel EPA veto power over projects like Crown Butte's tailings impoundment - which affects a wetland - has appeared at least twice since November as a rider to budget bills.


The battle is far from over.


For information about the Crown Butte Mine EIS, write New World Project Environmental Impact Statement, Gallatin National Forest, Box 1170, Bozeman, MT 59771.


* Lynne Bama





Mary Ann Chambers in Fort Collins, Colo., contributed to this report.