Greens Fight Montana Coal Mine Expansion

MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) – The Department of the Interior illegally approved a giant coal mining expansion northeast of Billings, three Montana environmental groups claim in court.
     Montana Elders for a Livable Tomorrow et al. sued the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and its parent agency on Aug. 17 in Federal Court.
     They challenge the approved, 7,000-acre expansion of Signal Peak Energy’s coal mine in the Bull Mountains.
     The Bull Mountains run through central Montana, about 50 miles northeast of Billings.
     Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality approved Signal Peak’s 7,000-acre expansion in 2012, and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining released a final environmental assessment this year.
     The environmentalists say the assessment did not consider the impact of shipping coal across state lines, including health effects from diesel emissions, coal dust and noise. The mine will contaminate the aquifer, hurt livestock, and coal trains to export terminals in the Pacific Northwest could hurt endangered salmon and other animals, the groups say.
     Joining as plaintiffs are the Montana Environmental Information Center, and the state chapter of the Sierra Club.
     “Despite acknowledging that the mine water will become polluted and then migrate toward the mine permit boundary, OSM [the Office of Surface Mining] refused to assess whether the pollution would migrate beyond the mine permit boundary,” the groups say in the lawsuit.
     They claim the federal agencies violated seven aspects of the National Environmental Policy Act, including failing to prepare a proper environmental impact statement, failure to consider greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, and failing to consider reasonable alternatives.
     They want the approval vacated and enjoined until Uncle Sam complies with NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act.
     They are represented by Shiloh Hernandez and Laura King with the Western Environmental Law Center in Helena.

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