Signal Peak Energy coal mine at Roundup, MT.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy on Friday (February 10, 2023) dealt a blow to Signal Peak’s 175-million-ton expansion plan to mine coal on federal lands, according to the Billings Gazette. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) will now need to update an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the expansion plan for the longwall mine, located 40 miles north of Billings, Montana.

In court, according to the Billings Gazette, Signal Peak indicated that it expected to start the expansion in March by mining 900,000 tons of coal, then ramp up to 4 million tons by the fall. The company has both state and private coal it can mine, but not without moving its longwall equipment, possibly twice. Signal Peak said undoing the federal government’s previous approvals will cause Montana a $126 million economic loss.

Several environmental activist groups brought a lawsuit over OSM repeatedly determining that the environmental impacts of mine expansions weren’t significant. Among the groups are 350 Montana, Sierra Club, Montana Environmental Information Center and WildEarth Guardians. The environmental issues center on surface water damage above the mine, impacting livestock and wildlife that rely on springs, wells and ponds.

According to the Billings Gazette, OSM has already started work on the EIS to examine the issues not addressed in the 2018 environmental assessment at the heart of the lawsuit. The original permit was issued in 2012 and litigated in 2015. Signal Peak prevailed in 2015 and again in 2017 and 2020.