In August, U.S. District Judge Don Molloy issued an order vacating and setting aside a challenged mining plan environmental assessment and enjoined all federal coal within an amended permit area boundary. He ruled that the federal Office of Surface Mining had not considered the impacts of the mine’s proposed expansion.
The current injunction will stop development operations in a part of the mine by the end of October and in another portion in March 2018, the company said. It added that the longwall mining would be idled indefinitely beginning in June 2019, cutting off tax and royalty revenues to the federal government, the state and local counties.
In 2013, Signal Peak applied to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for approval of a mining plan modification that would allow Signal Peak to continue its development operations by mining 2,539.76 acres of federal coal leases that are interspersed with the larger area of private coal. The Office of Surface Mining approved the Mine Plan on February 24, 2015.
Six months later, on August 17, 2015, a lawsuit was filed by Montana Environmental Information Center. On August 14, 2017, the judge determined that the agency had not adequately considered the indirect social, economic, and environmental effects of an increasing number of coal trains associated with the mine plan, addressed the indirect non-local impacts of non-greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning coal, nor quantified the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning coal.
Signal Peak’s notice of appeal challenges the remedy portion of the district court’s order, which it said refused to set a process for addressing remedy, and declined to dissolve the injunction on mining federal coal pending resolution of the remedy issues.
According to Signal Peak, the order will cause a substantial hardship to the mine and its employees, with 30 jobs at risk by the end of October, another 50 jobs at risk in March 2018, and 80 more mining jobs and 100 surface jobs at risk in June 2019.
“The public interest is better served by a stay that balances the specific environmental harms alleged by the appellee and noted by the district court, with the economic and social harms to the mine, its employees, and south central Montana,” the company said in the court documents. “A stay pending appeal will avoid significant injury to the public interest pending the court’s consideration of whether the district court erred in failing to consider the equities before ordering a blanket injunction.”