U.S. District Judge Susan Watters in Billings said in a ruling handed down January 22 that the Department of the Interior (DOI) now has nine months to re-examine CPE’s permit, reportedly saying that it “failed to take a hard look” at the expansion initially, according to the Associated Press. She also said the agency violated public notice provisions in its handling of the mine’s application.
Judge Watters’ decision parallels previous recommendations of U.S. Magistrate Carolyn Ostby, who was tasked with reviewing the case against CPE filed last year by environmentalists including WildEarth Guardians. The groups’ complaint, based on claims of contributions to climate change, also includes 10 other mines in a total of five U.S. states.
However, despite recommendations of a six-month extension by Ostby, Watters has offered more time for the DOI’s review after department officials said it would need it to complete the work. At the same time, she has ordered monthly progress reports, The Missoulian reported.
Should the Spring Creek expansion be canceled, CPE has already said most of its 275 workers would be laid off. The project was set to keep the operation producing through 2022, perhaps longer.
Spring Creek, a thermal surface complex located near Decker, extracts from the 80-ft-thick Anderson-Dietz seam. It shipped about 17.4 million tons in 2014.