A federal district court judge in Montana has halted the mining of federal coal at the Bull Mountains Mine No.1, operated by Signal Peak Energy. This halt is pending a thorough analysis of the mine’s impacts on ranchers, vital water sources, and the surrounding environment. The decision will require the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to determine whether the expansion meets legal requirements to proceed, a step that should have occurred before Signal Peak’s permit expansion was granted several years ago.
While Northern Plains was not part of the lawsuit that led to this ruling, we are relieved to see Signal Peak held accountable for its reckless actions. The corporation has destroyed precious water resources above the mine and has attempted to force local ranchers out of the Bull Mountains. Surface subsidence (cave-ins) from the underground mine has torn cracks and crevasses through the Bull Mountains, causing springs and wells to go dry and imperiling all who use the area. Additionally, Signal Peak has canceled ranchers’ leases and harassed ranchers to the extent that some have abandoned ranching in the area. This is a tactic used to evade reclamation obligations that are often only enforced when local landowners are present to demand them.
The future for Signal Peak is now unclear. The corporation can still legally mine private and state-owned coal, and we will learn more about whether the company can survive without mining federal coal. Now more than ever our members will be pushing for adequate reclamation, and ensuring that Signal Peak operates legally and responsibly so that Bull Mountain and Musselshell County residents can thrive whenever mining operations cease.