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Court says coal mine expansion permit ignored pollution law

| November 2, 2021 7:00 AM

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana environmental regulators ignored the law when they permitted an expansion of a massive strip mine that is the sole source of coal for a large power plant despite concerns over water pollution, a state judge ruled.

State District Judge Katherine Bidegaray ordered the Department of Environmental Quality to revisit its 2015 permit to expand the 25,752-acre Rosebud Mine, owned by Colorado-based Westmoreland mining.

The judge's Thursday order came after environmental groups sued over damage to a nearby creek from wastewater that flows out of the mine.

Rosebud is in the Powder River Basin along the Montana-Wyoming border. It fuels the Colstrip Power Plant that burns about 8 million tons of coal annually.

For years, nearby East Fork Armells Creek has received salty water from the mine and contaminants from coal ash ponds at the power plant, The Billings Gazette reported.

The Montana Strip and Underground Mine Reclamation Act forbids the state from issuing mine permits unless it can be proven there won't be damage to the balance of water outside the permit area.

But Bidegaray said the state was doing the opposite — allowing harmful salt levels in Armells to increase.

It remains unclear what the ruling means for mining operations, said Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson Moira Davin.

Westmoreland representatives did not immediately respond to the ruling.