Box 4. Case Study from the Mining Industry: The Good Neighbor Agreement

Box 4. Case Study from the Mining Industry: The Good Neighbor Agreement

In 2000, when Stillwater Mining Company began making plans to expand their mining operations in two Montana counties, several environmental NGOs saw an opportunity to engage with the company about protecting the area’s natural resources. During the hearing on the initial draft of the expansion permit, NGO representatives raised questions about its environmental implications. The groups subsequently entered into negotiations with the mining company on how to resolve these issues before the permit was finalized. The result of their negotiations was the creation of the 2000 Good Neighbor Agreement, 1 a legally binding document. The purpose of the agreement is to protect the area’s quality of life while providing for responsible economic development.

Designed to avoid triggering state government regulatory action on water quality, the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) establishes water quality requirements that exceed those required by the state. Three citizens’ committees and a set of projects were established to implement the objectives outlined in the agreement. As part of the agreement, an independent third-party consultant provides the citizen councils with technical assistance. The consultant costs, as well as other expenses of implementing the agreement, are covered by Stillwater.

One citizen committee focuses on engaging local residents in water quality monitoring for the agreement in the Stillwater, Boulder, and East Boulder Rivers. 2 Other initiatives of the GNA have increased public safety and decreased air pollution by establishing traffic restrictions and providing for carpooling, as well as a busing program for miners. On an annual basis, the technology committee considers any emerging best practices in the mining industry that could be applied to either of the mines.

The company’s transparency about its operations, along with citizen participation in monitoring activities, has fostered an environment of trust. 3 Maintaining an ongoing relationship has been important for stakeholders in the GNA because it has allowed for open dialogue and development of amendments to the agreement as needed. For example, the busing agreement originally stated that Stillwater was permitted only 35 private vehicles on the road per day. Nine years later, stakeholders renegotiated the traffic provisions to accommodate the changing operational needs of the mine while keeping traffic to a minimum.

In its newsletter commemorating the tenth anniversary of the GNA, the Northern Plains Resource Council, one of the original NGO parties to the agreement, stated that the GNA “has become a template for resolving disputes and promoting positive interaction in the permitting and development of natural resources.” 4

For more information, contact the Northern Plains Resource Council, (406) 248 1154, info@northernplains.org.

Notes:

  1. Good Neighbor Agreement Between Stillwater Mining Company and Northern Plains Resource Council, Cottonwood Resource Council, and Stillwater Protective Association (originally signed May 8, 2000; amended November 11, 2009).
  2. Northern Plains Resource Council, “Good Neighbor Agreement: A Unique Solution for Local Protection,” accessed December 9, 2014.
  3. Northern Plains Resource Council, “10th Anniversary Good Neighbor Agreement Newsletter,” 1, accessed December 9, 2014.
  4. Northern Plains Resource Council, “10th Anniversary,” 1.