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Judge: Montana coal mine expansion needs further review

Legal Gavel
Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A Billings magistrate judge issued a preliminary ruling last week that federal regulators should take another look at a mine expansion’s potential environmental effects after determining the agency in charge of reviewing the expansion did not consider all climate impacts.

The recommended ruling now heads to a federal judge for a final decision.

The magistrate judge found that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement had failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when regulators authorized an expansion at the mine that provides coal to the Colstrip power plant in south central Montana.

The advocacy groups Montana Environmental Information Center, Indian People’s Action, 350 Montana, Sierra Club and Wildearth Guardians sued owner Westmoreland Rosebud Mining LLC and the Trump Administration over the expansion in 2019.

The court ruled that regulators failed to take a “hard look” at the costs of greenhouse gas emissions in the same way they did the economic benefits, impacts to the water levels in the Yellowstone River and other potential consequences of the expansion.

Court documents show it would add nearly 71 million tons of coal output and extend the life of the facility by eight years.

The judge recommended that the environmental impact statement be sent back to regulators for revision and that they be given about a year before the expansion permit is revoked. The ruling is open for objections, and will be sent to the desk of a federal judge for a final decision.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.