Today, Montana conservation groups were forced to take legal action to protect water and air quality from a massive expansion at the Bull Mountains coal mine near Roundup. Earlier this year the federal government approved a 100-million-ton expansion at the mine, setting it up to become the largest underground coal mine in the country, with only cursory environmental review. Expansion of the mine will increase air and water pollution, threaten the livelihood of nearby ranchers, and exacerbate climate change. Nearly all of the coal will travel by rail through Montana communities and eventually be burned overseas.
Signal Peak Energy is partially owned by the Gunvor Group, registered in Cyprus and based in Switzerland. According to a November 5, 2014, Wall Street Journal news article, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the company’s co-founder for money laundering in relation to his activities with Gunvor. Signal Peak Energy wants to double the size of the long-wall mine even though mining activities are already causing dramatic land subsidence in the Bull Mountains and polluting groundwater. Groundwater pollution harms water supplies for local ranches and their livestock. The expansion would cover 7,160 acres in Musselshell County. Signal Peak plans to ramp production up to 15 million tons per year, making this the largest underground coal mine by production in the country, and accounting for approximately 10 percent of U.S. coal exports.
“Increased coal traffic will impact lung health of adults and children from both local and global sources,” said Dr. Paul Smith, pediatric pulmonologist and member of Montana Elders for a Livable Tomorrow. “Diesel fuel combustion from train engines and coal dust deposition will increase air pollution. This is especially concerning in valleys such as the Missoula Air Stagnation Zone. Missoula’s particulate matter has been borderline for non-attainment, and adding several more coal trains a day will push us over, with additional costs to the community’s health and economy. Globally, coal combustion is a major contributor to climate change with already observable consequences on the lung health of millions of children and adults. To reverse these health impacts, we must decrease coal use.”
The groups are challenging the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s approval of the proposal under the National Environmental Policy Act. OSM failed to prepare an environmental impact statement, even though its own guidelines state that the size of the proposed expansion mandates one. Additionally, OSM did not study the health impacts of coal trains carrying Bull Mountains coal through Montana communities to ports across the country, nor did the agency fully analyze the climate change impacts of mining and burning more coal.
“This is a massive expansion of an underground mine riddled with problems. It is foolhardy for the federal government to approve such a enormous expansion without a comprehensive environmental and economic analysis,” said Anne Hedges, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center. “This type of hasty action by the federal government is what continues to cause so many water quality problems across Montana. The time to consider the impacts is before mining occurs, not after.”
Western Environmental Law Center represents the plaintiffs Montana Elders for a Livable Tomorrow, Montana Environmental Information Center, and the Sierra Club.
A copy of the complaint is available here.
Dr. Paul Smith, Montana Elders for a Livable Tomorrow, (406) 493-5631,
Anne Hedges, Montana Environmental Information Center, (406) 443-2520,
Mike Scott, Sierra Club, (406) 839-3333,
Shiloh Hernandez, Western Environmental Law Center, (406) 204-4861,
Read more about our Bull Mountains mine expansion work.