The Montana Supreme Court, in a 4-2 decision, has ruled that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) violated the state’s water quality laws when it issued a general construction permit that would have allowed Revett Silver Co. to build the Rock Creek mine in a wilderness area. Clark Fork Coal. v. Mont. DEQ, No. 12‑240 (Mont. 10/29/12). The majority agreed with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department research showing that Rock Creek is an essential part of bull trout habitat that cannot be replaced if damaged. The court also agreed with a U.S. Forest Service conclusion that road construction over a five-year period would fill the stream with sediment that could “result in permanent loss of Rock Creek bull trout stock.” It ruled that DEQ erred in granting a general permit under a law that prohibits “the use of a general permit in an area of unique ecological or recreational significance.”
The dissenters argued that the majority based its decision on “a very selective review of the evidentiary record and one that is contrary to the record as a whole.” According to the dissenting justices, DEQ properly issued a general permit and the court should have deferred to the agency.