In addition to defending rooftop solar, we helped sway some big votes on another terrible bill that could force individuals to cover the court costs of coal corporations in reclamation lawsuits. Under SB 392, sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls), anyone who sued a coal company to enforce the company’s legal obligation to repair land and water damaged by mining would be on the hook for the company’s court costs should the suit be unsuccessful. This corporate-friendly legislation could block landowners from seeking justice due to fears of enormous sums owed if a judge ruled in a corporation’s favor.

A group of Northern Plains members who live in coal country testified on the bill and reached out directly to senators, describing their personal experiences dealing with damaged land and water.

Here is an excerpt from Northern Plains member and Bull Mountain rancher Ressa Charter detailing the impacts this bill would have for his family:

“We have had a water well crucial to our livestock operations critically damaged by underground mining and are in an ongoing dispute with a mining operator….   Our situation is a concrete and personal example of the extreme chilling effect this bill would have on citizens’ abilities to defend their property rights and ability to operate their businesses… In general, this bill would massively degrade landowners’ recourse to the law and could leave Montana a place where only mining companies and billionaire land barons are able to practically afford to own and operate land-based businesses.”

Between second and third readings of SB 392, five votes moved in our favor against this bill. These swings were crucial, leading to the bill’s (temporary) defeat by a single vote. This is a testament to the power of everyday people participating in the legislative process.

However, corporations and corporate-promiscuous legislators are hell bent on silencing those who seek to hold them accountable. As a result, SB 392 was revived in a vote for reconsideration that passed by one vote. Sadly, the bill then passed through the Senate on a re-vote and will now head to the House. But this fight is not over; it’s just beginning. We almost killed this bill in the Senate with very little time to prepare, but now we have the time to ensure members of the House (and members of the public) hear our stories and learn what a shameful effort this is to undermine justice and give corporations a free pass to destroy land and water.

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