Today, a coalition of conservation and clean energy advocates challenged a decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior to allow Cloud Peak Energy to strip mine nearly 100 million tons of publicly owned coal from 1,000 acres of public lands without ever conducting a comprehensive environmental analysis.
Cloud Peak, the third-largest coal company in the nation, operates the massive Spring Creek mine at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains in southeastern Montana. Despite being the largest coal mine in Montana and the largest strip mine in the nation outside of Wyoming, the mine has never been subject to a comprehensive environmental review under state or federal law.
Coal from the Spring Creek mine is burned in power plants in Asia and throughout the American West and Midwest. In 2016, the mine was responsible for approximately 20 million metric tons of carbon pollution, far more than the pollution from the Colstrip Power Plant—making it Montana’s largest contributor to global warming.
The federal government’s approval of the mine also failed to disclose the climate implications of expanded mining, rail traffic, and exports. It also failed to protect Montana’s public lands, air, and water.
The suit also targets the fact that the coal to be mined by Cloud Peak was never legally sold to the company in the first place. According to Interior Department records, an unauthorized official approved the sale of the coal, rendering the sale invalid.
“It’s absurd that the federal government has given the largest coal mine in Montana a free pass for decades. Enough is enough. The federal government cannot continue to ignore the very real and serious impacts of climate change. Climate change is having disastrous consequences on our economy, our environment, and our way of life both here and abroad,” said Derf Johnson, MEIC’s water policy director. “It’s time the federal government did its job and followed the law.”
“The Interior Department’s management of our publicly owned coal is completely off the rails,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Whether it’s turning a blind eye to our climate or letting unauthorized employees make decisions, Interior is letting Americans down.”
At the urging of coal companies, Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, lifted a moratorium on new public lands coal leasing in March and scrapped efforts to reform federal coal management. Last week, Zinke’s boss, President Trump, withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, which sought to cap carbon pollution and limit global temperature increases. The U.S. now joins only one other country—Syria—in opposing the agreement. These place-based challenges are more important than ever in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to cede climate leadership completely.
The suit was filed by the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Montana Environmental Information Center and WildEarth Guardians.
A copy of the complaint is available here.