Lawsuit filed over Bull Mountain coal lease – KTVQ-TV, May 14, 2014

May 15, 2014

Categories: Agriculture, Coal, Courts, Landowner Rights, News, Northern Plains Resource Council

By Jay Kohn

BILLINGS – Landowners living near the Signal Peak Coal Mine in the Bull Mountains north of Billings are suing the Bureau of Land Management.

Their lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Billings recently seeks to force the agency to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) into the impact of expanded coal mining in the area.

Northern Plains Resource Council Chair Steve Charter said the lawsuit is not aimed at stopping the mine, but rather to force the federal government to follow its own rules.

Court documents allege that BLM officials unlawfully approved the coal lease in question for Signal Peak Energy back in 2008 without requiring a complete EIS.

Instead, the agency agreed only to conduct an Environmental Assessment (EA), which the plaintiffs allege does not fully analyze the public health and safety for homes and structures that are likely to be affected by subsidence events attributable to coal mining.

“The BLM’s study said that the surface effects of underground coal mining would be minimal and short-lived, but that’s not what we’re seeing on the ground at all,” said Charter.

Charter said he’s seen notable subsidence cracks in the area of the mine, some as big as 15 feet wide by 19 feet deep.

“What we would like to see is a more thorough analysis of the impacts,” Charter said. “Then we would also like to see some stipulations included into the lease, and those stipulations would be concerning subsidence and damage to aquifers.”

Northern Plains Resource Council Board Member Ellen Pfister ranches above Signal Peak’s Bull Mountain Coal Mine.

Her main concern is for the water supply for her family’s ranch and the impact the mining may have on springs and new water wells.

“Well drillers don’t like to drill into subsided areas because they’re unstable. It’s slow, expensive and it’s dangerous if they’re trying to drill through those areas to find water,” Pfister said.

The lawsuit alleges that BLM’s failure to require an EIS and relying on an outdated EA is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgement overturning BLM’s decision and to declare the existing federal coal lease void.

Signal Peak officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

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