By January 22, 2016 Read More →

Feds to re examine Spring Creek coal mine: Judge in climate suit

Expansion of Spring Creek coal mine could make climate change worse: Environmentalists

spring creek

US District Judge Susan Watters gave the Interior Department nine months to look at the Spring Creek mine expansion proposal.  Cloud Peak Energy photo.

BILLINGS, Mont. _ Federal officials must re-examine a 117 million-ton expansion of a Montana coal mine after a judge sided with environmentalists who sued over the project’s potential to make climate change worse and cause other environmental damage.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters gave the Interior Department nine months to look again at the proposal for the Spring Creek mine near the Wyoming border. In its prior review, the agency “failed to take a hard look” at the expansion, Watters wrote.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, WildEarth Guardians, is pursuing a broad legal campaign against the coal industry, through lawsuits challenging decisions affecting 11 mines in five states. The group has sought to highlight how burning the fuel contributes to climate change.

Watters’ decision follows similar rulings affecting two coal mines in Colorado and hits to the industry from company bankruptcies and falling domestic and international demand for coal. Plus, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell imposed a moratorium last week on new coal sales from public lands pending a review of the program that is expected to take up to three years.

Cancelling the permit for the expansion of the Spring Creek mine would trigger layoffs for most of the mine’s 275 workers, mine owner Cloud Peak Energy has warned. The expansion would keep mining going at least through 2022.

But the government violated public notice provisions in its handling of Cloud Peak’s mining application, Watters said in her ruling Thursday.

Much of the judge’s findings were in line with recommendations from U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby, who reviewed the case last year. But Watters’ nine-month deadline is three months longer than Ostby recommended, coming after government officials said they needed more time to finish the required work.

Watters ordered monthly updates on the Interior Department’s progress and said the deadline could be extended if necessary.

The two other plaintiffs in the case, the Northern Plains Resource Council and Western Organization of Resource Councils, had claimed in part that Cloud Peak did not successfully restore previously mined lands.

The Canadian Press

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