Our Vision for Coal Reclamation in Montana
We are people who care about Montana’s coal country. Though we come from different backgrounds, we share deep ties to this land. Some of our families have been here for generations, others since time immemorial. We are farmers, ranchers, workers, tribal members, and business owners who are committed to preserving our home.
We value our working landscapes, clean air and water, as well as the plants, crops, and animals they support. We believe these resources are central to the culture and vitality of this region. We have an obligation to steward what we have inherited so that future generations can prosper in these places we love.
We are building a future where corporations invest in the livelihoods of their workers and care for the communities where they extract resources. We want to see our democratically empowered agencies stand up for the people they’re tasked to represent. If we work together through open and honest communication — with understanding and a commitment to listening — our grasslands can flourish again and clean water will return to our creeks, rivers, lakes, and streams.
Corporations have always known that extraction of any finite resource cannot last forever. Time and again, they fixate on financial gain but fail to meet legal responsibilities to restore the land and make communities whole before leaving town. Decades of restoration work have been lost, so the time to act is now. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to clean up the messes that were made in lifetimes before theirs.
Issues We Work On
Colstrip Ash Pond Cleanup
We are working to ensure effective cleanup of the leaking ash ponds associated with the Colstrip power plant.
Because coal ash pond closure and associated groundwater remediation is only now becoming a priority for power plants, there are many unanswered questions about the size and nature of the workforce needed to do it right. Doing It Right, is a Colstrip jobs study that aims to shed light on some of the cleanup work being done now around the country and what that might mean for the Colstrip, MT workforce and community.
Published in April 2019, Doing it Right II builds on the previous study conducted in 2018. This new study incorporates new data to highlight the specific environmental and economic benefits of coal ash cleanup at the Colstrip power plant in southeastern Montana. The overall takeaway from both reports is that robust cleanup creates hundreds of good-paying jobs, permanently repairs local groundwater, and stimulates broad economic prosperity for the local community.
Click here to read Doing It Right II: Job Creation through Colstrip Cleanup, or read the Fact Sheets:
Protecting the Bull Mountains
We are working to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture and local communities in the Bull Mountains by preventing any mine expansion of the criminally convicted mine operator, Signal Peak Energy, and ensuring we have the research and protections in place to mitigate the impacts of coal mining on water within the current mine plan. For more information on what’s going on in the Bull Mountains, check out the Bull Mountains community resource page below.
Only a small fraction of mined lands in Montana has been fully reclaimed. By working for more complete reclamation, we can create abundant jobs and help ensure that working farm and ranch lands and traditions can be passed on to future generations.
Montana DEQ water quality data from Colstrip 3&4 ponds (April 2020)
In southeastern Montana, coal seams are aquifers. Coal mining rips up those aquifers, and mine-related discharges can pollute rivers and creeks that farms and ranches rely on. Northern Plains works for stringent water quality standards and effective cleanup in coal country to protect irrigators from water pollution.
History and Accomplishments
- 1972 & 1975: Shaping and passing Montana’s landmark environmental laws.
- 1972-1977: Facing down huge energy corporations and their plans to strip mine coal in Montana. This work resulted in congressional passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Northern Plains was a national leader in gaining this important legislation, which was sponsored by Montana Senator John Melcher.
- 2007: Upholding the integrity of the EIS process and the applicability of environmental laws to coal bed methane development.
- 2011: Winning a federal court of appeals decision requiring a new EIS for the proposed Tongue River Railroad due to its many deficiencies.
- 2016: Winning the withdrawal of the largest coal mine project ever proposed in Montana (Otter Creek).
- 1977-2016: Winning an outright dismissal of the construction permit for the Tongue River Railroad, a major coal infrastructure project. A diverse campaign, dogged persistence, and effective strategy won this 38-year campaign in April 2016.
- 2020: Played a key role in a ruling by the Department of Environmental Quality to fully excavate the leaking ash ponds associated with Colstrip Power Plant Units 1 & 2, and move the ash to a new, lined landfill that is separated from groundwater.
- 2010-2021: Played a major role in the struggle to stop six massive coal ports from being developed, bringing the voice of Montana into an otherwise Washington state-centric fight.
- 2015-2022: Plaintiffs in a case against the Bureau of Land Management, resulting in the striking down of two resource management plans that failed to address the public health consequences of allowing massive amounts of coal, oil, and gas production from public lands and minerals in the Powder River Basin, including approximately 6 billion tons of low-grade, highly polluting coal over 20 years.