Today a group of concerned Montanans filed a legal challenge to protect the climate and water resources from destructive coal mining practices in eastern Montana. The groups are challenging the federal Office of Surface Mining’s (OSM) misguided approval of an enormous expansion of the Rosebud strip mine, which provides coal to the Colstrip power plant. In addition to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) lawsuit filed in federal district court in Montana, the groups also sent OSM a letter outlining the agency’s failure to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the expansion’s impact on pallid sturgeon in the nearby Yellowstone River.
The Colstrip coal-fired power plant is one of the largest greenhouse gas polluters in the nation. The Rosebud mine, owned by Westmoreland Rosebud Mining, LLC–an entity that arose from the bankruptcy of Westmoreland Mining Co.– is one of the largest coal mines in the U.S. OSM approved Westmoreland’s proposal to add an additional 6,748 acres to the mine so it can provide another 71 million tons of coal to the Colstrip power plant. This potentially extends the life of the mine for 19 years, though many of the plant’s owners are preparing to exit the plant as soon as 2025.
The expansion at Rosebud will destroy water resources, harm wildlife and public lands, and exacerbate the climate crisis. The expansion also threatens to further damage habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon in the Yellowstone River. Unfortunately, OSM refused to consider the cost to the environment and the economy in mining and burning an additional 71 million tons of coal.
Coal power is falling out of favor nationally and globally as utilities continue to adopt cheaper and cleaner alternatives. Half the units of the Colstrip plant will close at the end of 2019, reducing the demand for coal at the mine by as much as a third, and a majority of the owners are planning their exit from the final two units in 5 to 10 years. However, OSM turned a blind eye to the rapidly changing coal market and energy economy.
“OSM has done it again. In its quest to rubberstamp all fossil fuel development proposals, it has cut corners and ignored the very real and devastating impacts from coal mining. Coal mining is known to harm water quality and quantity and this mine expansion proposal is no different,” said Anne Hedges with the Montana Environmental Information Center. “The Trump administration’s continued disdain for protecting the public’s water resources and climate from the threats posed by fossil fuel development is damaging our economy and precious resources.”
“Instead of expanding coal mining and other fossil fuel-based energy production, we need to be moving in the opposite direction. Rather than using our tax dollars to subsidize fossil fuel industries, the government should be using that money to retrain employees of coal mines and oil companies to work in clean, environmentally sustainable industries,” said George Price with Indian Peoples Action. “When it comes to a choice between reducing our consumption of fossil fuel-produced energy and manufactured products or destroying Earth’s natural, life-supporting systems, we will always choose to protect Earth and Water.”
“It makes no sense to sacrifice more of Montana’s fresh water resources to massively expand a coal mine whose only customer is buying less coal,” said Mike Scott, Billings-based senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club. “It’s time to focus on putting people to work restoring and reclaiming the existing mine rather than attempting to lock in two decades worth of coal for a plant that doesn’t need it.”
“At its heart, NEPA requires agencies to tell the environmental truth. The agencies failed,” said Shiloh Hernandez, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Their analysis is all rainbows and unicorns, not reality. There is no economic or environmental case for expanding this strip mine. Coal is just too dirty and too expensive. The future of the Rosebud mine is in reclamation—and there are decades of work needed.”
“The Trump Administration unfortunately is trying to prop up a dying coal industry, rather than help our nation transition away from fossil fuels,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “OSM shouldn’t be rubberstamping Westmoreland’s demands for more strip mining, they should be ensuring the company follows through with its obligation to protect the land, safeguard clean water, and reclaim the mine.”
The Western Environmental Law Center and Sierra Club filed the complaint on behalf of the Montana Environmental Information Center, Sierra Club, Indian Peoples Action, 350 Montana, and WildEarth Guardians in federal district court in Billings, Montana.
Mike Scott, Sierra Club, (406) 839-3333