Judge Strikes Down Water Permit for Montana Coal Mine

The ruling marks yet another setback for an industry that has been assailed with numerous lawsuits

By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press

BILLINGS — A judge struck down a permit for a southeastern Montana coal mine, saying officials failed to fully consider the effects of pollutants on several nearby creeks.

The ruling marks yet another setback for an industry that has been assailed with numerous lawsuits from environmentalists in recent years. The Rosebud strip mine produces about 9 million tons of coal a year, primarily for the Colstrip power plant.

State District Judge Kathy Seeley ordered the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to reconsider the mine’s water discharge permit in a March 14 decision.

She said the agency had shown “clear errors of judgment” in allowing reduced monitoring of pollution from the mine and reclassifying surrounding waterways so they were subject to less-stringent pollution standards.

A separate challenge of the state’s approval of a 12 million-ton expansion of the Rosebud mine is pending before the Montana Board of Environmental Review.

The Department of Environmental Quality was evaluating Seeley’s order before it decides how to proceed, public policy director Kristi Ponozzo said Friday.

The Helena judge did not set a deadline for the department to act, and the ruling is not expected to immediately affect mining.

Representatives of mine owner Westmoreland Coal Co. of Englewood, Colorado, did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.

The Montana Environmental Information Center and Sierra Club sued the state in 2012 to challenge the permit. The groups contend state officials ignored evidence mining was harming waterways.

“There was a legal sleight of hand in which they changed the classification (of waterways) without going through the public process to do so,” said Anne Hedges with the Montana Environmental Information Center. “You have to have things that can live in that water. A polluter can’t just take that away.”