Western Values Project released a video it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request showing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke apologizing to Hecla Mining Company’s CEO, Phillips Baker, for public land protections. Baker is currently in suit over a ‘bad actor’ designation for his previous company’s failure to clean up one of Montana’s largest environmental mining disasters, Zortman-Landusky.
The Washington Post first broke the story, noting that “some conservationists are calling it another example of the deference the Trump administration gives to excavation companies.”
“Secretary Zinke may think Phillip Baker’s mining disaster is some sort of joke. To us Montanans, it is no laughing matter,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. “Somehow Zinke thinks the head of the company that left a mess, ditched town, and stuck taxpayers with a $100 million cleanup tab deserves an apology. This is how out of touch the Secretary has become.”
Zinke’s apology was part of the Secretary’s “Cut the Red Tape” industry listening session in October.
In the exchange, Phil Baker said, “Hello, Secretary. Good to see you again. Phil Baker with Hecla Mining Company. I’m here to tell you and others about the impediments to mining from the permitting regime we have.”
Secretary Zinke responded by saying, “On behalf of the United States government, we apologize.” An Interior spokeswoman brushed off the comment as a joke.
It’s no joke for Montanans, who know Baker from his previous tenure as the chief financial officer of Pegasus, which operated three mines in Montana, including Zortman-Landusky. That company declared bankruptcy in 1998, leaving a $100 million cleanup of cyanide, arsenic, and other toxic pollutants for state and federal taxpayers. These actions led Montana state regulators to declare him a ‘bad actor.’
As a state senator, Zinke voted to appropriate $300,000 to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for the “Zortman and Landusky Mines Source Control Prioritization Evaluation.” Hecla donated to Zinke’s 2016 congressional campaign.
Also published on Medium.