August 22, 2017 Read More →

In Blocking Montana Mine Enlargement, Judge Sees Company as ‘Inflating the Benefits of the Action While Minimizing Its Impacts’

Associated Press:

A federal judge has blocked a proposed 176-million ton (159 million-metric ton) expansion of a central Montana coal mine in a ruling that criticized U.S. officials for downplaying the climate change impacts of the project and inflating its economic benefits.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy issued an order Monday barring Signal Peak Energy from mining in the 11-square mile (28-square kilometer) expansion area at the Bull Mountain coal mine pending a new round of environmental studies.

Molloy says the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining must consider the environmental effects of shipping the fuel to customers in Asia and from the greenhouse gases and other pollutants emitted when the fuel is burned to generate electricity.

Federal mining officials said the proposed expansion would contribute almost $24 million annually in tax revenues. They also said there would be no additional environmental impacts from burning more coal from Bull Mountain because its customers would simply go somewhere else if the expansion were not approved.

But Molloy rejected the claim.

“This conclusion is illogical, and places the (Interior Department’s) thumb on the scale by inflating the benefits of the action while minimizing its impacts,” the judge wrote.

Bull Mountain, located near Roundup, is a major employer in central Montana with more than 250 workers at the underground mine and a coal preparation plant on the site. As much as 95 percent of its coal has been exported in past years, to South Korea, Japan and the Netherlands, according to court volumes.

The mine’s production volumes dropped sharply in recent years as overseas coal markets have been in decline. Signal Peak extracted 5.6 million tons of coal last year, down by 35 percent since peaking at 8.7 million tons in 2013, according to company filings with the U.S. Mine Health and Safety Administration.

Under the proposed expansion, the company anticipated mining up to 12 million tons annually.

More: Judge blocks 176-million ton coal mine expansion in Montana

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