Federal judge rules massive Montana coal mine expansion illegal

Helena, Montana

On Friday night, Billings Federal District Court Judge Susan Watters ruled that a massive expansion of the Rosebud surface mine was illegally approved. The expansion was approved in June 2019 by the Federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and allowed Western Rosebud Mining, LLC (WRM) to open pit a new area, known as the f.

The court ruled that the OSM failed to consider the impacts of this massive expansion on water resources, the Yellowstone River and the climate. The expansion would allow the surface mining of an additional 6,500 acres containing around 70 million tonnes of coal, which would be burned almost exclusively at the Colstrip power plant and release over 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. Burning coal at the Colstrip Power Plant requires diverting 25,000 to 50,000 acres of water from the Yellowstone River each year.

“OSM has a responsibility to tell the public the truth about the evils of coal mining and burning. It continually fails to do its job despite the plain language of the law,” said Shiloh Hernandez, Senior Counsel at Earthjustice. “On an honest and lucid analysis, further coal development is indefensible. OSM now has the opportunity and the obligation to design and analyze a transition to Colstrip that is just for the community and the climate.

The court agreed with conservation groups who pointed out that the OSM focused on the economic benefits of the mine, while ignoring the environmental costs. OSM’s attempt to use puns to avoid disclosing the crushing costs of mine expansion did not negate its obligation to provide an unbiased analysis of the costs and benefits of coal mining. On remand, OSM will be forced to consider an “in-between” alternative that will end coal mining at Colstrip.

“This was a massive open pit mining expansion for the Colstrip plant, but OSM has largely ignored the impacts on water resources and how the expansion would contribute to the climate catastrophe we are experiencing. in Montana and across the country,” said Derf Johnson, deputy director of the Montana Center for Environmental Information. “Water is the lifeblood of this state. Mine operations and the inevitable burning of coal will cause irreversible damage in Montana and downstream. OSM got caught bidding on the mining industry instead of doing people’s jobs.

The case, filed in November 2019, stemmed from the continuing concern that OSM was unaware of the profound impacts resulting from surface mining of such a large area and how burning such coal would contribute to the climate crisis already. severe. Zone F would increase the size of the mine to over 30,000 acres, an area larger than Billings. The Rosebud Coal Mine exclusively supplies coal to the Colstrip Power Plant, which is Montana’s largest greenhouse gas polluter and one of the largest in the western United States.

Coal mines nationwide and in Montana are closing due to lower demand, and 70% of Colstrip power plant owners plan to leave the plant by the end of 2025. Recent expansions are hurting waters, including ranchers, farmers and wildlife will need long after the mine is no longer in operation.

“The tribunal found that OSM has once again put its thumb in the balance by considering the benefits of the mine, but refusing to disclose the on-the-ground impacts that coal mining and burning have on the waters, fauna and climate of the region”, said Melissa Hornbein with the Western Environmental Law Center. “The law does not allow this type of play, and the climate and our stressed water resources deserve better.”

“From the flooding of Yellowstone to drought-stricken farmland and ranches, climate change is taking an increasingly heavy toll on Montana’s environment and economy,” said David Merrill, lead organizer at the Sierra Club. “Solar and wind power combined with batteries and other components can provide the same electricity, with the same reliability as coal or gas, for less money. What are we waiting for? “

Coal mining for energy is the dirtiest way to generate electricity. Several analyzes show that if existing fossil fuel reserves are fully developed, pollution from these sources will push warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. To avoid such warming, it is necessary end new investments in fossil fuel projects. If the coal from the Rosebud mine expansion were to be burned, it would result in approximately 120 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, or the net equivalent of driving 29 million passenger vehicles for one year.

“Right now, it’s costing us more to pay for the damage caused by climate change than it is to build clean energy,” said Jeff Smith, co-president of 350 Montana. “We have the technology. We have the money. And, in Montana, we have the skilled workers to make that transition. And our research says Montana’s cleanest energy is also Montana’s cheapest energy.”

“We cannot continue to extract more coal and have any chance of dealing with the climate crisis,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “This latest court ruling gives new hope for a full transition away from expensive coal in Montana and beyond.”

Earthjustice and Western Environmental Law Center represented the Montana Environmental Information Center, Sierra Club, Indian People’s Action, 350 Montana and WildEarth Guardians in this case.

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