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Lawsuit Threatened Against State Over Montana Mines

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Environmental groups representing Montana ranchers downstream of coal mines have notified regulators that they intend to sue the state unless more is done to prevent water pollution from mining.

The notice from the Montana Environmental Information Center and Sierra Club gives the state 60 days to resolve concerns that mine permits are being approved without sufficient review of potential damage to streams and underground aquifers.

If their concerns are not addressed, the groups said they would sue the state Department of Environmental Quality.

A spokeswoman for the agency’s director, Richard Opper, said Tuesday he had not yet received the notice and could not respond. The notice was dated Monday.

The groups listed 11 permits issued to seven mines in recent years. Also mentioned was a pending application for the Rosebud mine near Colstrip.

The notice claims some waters around the targeted mines already have failed to meet water quality standards. Tinted water can sicken livestock or mean ranchers must give their cows costly nutrient supplements to guard against illness, said Ellen Pfister, who ranches south of Roundup above Signal Peak Energy’s Bull Mountain mine.

Pfister said her water supplies had not yet been affected. But she said the state’s failure to fully consider up front the cumulative impact of years of mining leaves her exposed to potential future problems.

“If the mine is right, nothing will happen to our water and I will be a happy person. I am not optimistic,” Pfister said.

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