The Bull Mountains are worth protecting

In the winter 2022 issue of the Plains Truth, we detailed a crime-movie level of corruption, and injustice that Signal Peak Energy (SPE) has levied on the local community and their workers. SPE is the operator of Bull Mountain Mine No. 1, an underground coal mine near Roundup. Unfortunately, the plot of the coal company’s recklessness continues to thicken.

On January 31, SPE received a criminal sentence by a federal judge which included a $1 million fine and three years of probation for willful violations of multiple environmental and safety standards. The company’s crimes included the illegal pumping of toxic wastewater into abandoned mine areas and bribing employees to cover up injuries incurred on the job, which included a finger amputation. More recent developments show that Signal Peak’s threats extend even further.

In April, a federal court found that the U.S. Interior Department downplayed the climate disruption that would result from Signal Peak’s last permit expansion in a 2018 environmental analysis. This expansion includes all the coal Signal Peak plans to mine between now and 2030. The project as a whole would cumulatively release an estimated 190 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, which the court noted would “generate more GHG emissions annually than the largest single point source of GHG emissions in the United States.”

While these rulings alone make it clear this company is reckless and causing immense environmental damage, SPE is also pressuring folks in the Bull Mountains to leave. This is an age-old tactic of coal companies seeking to get landowners or leasers out of the way so no one will hold them accountable for their actions.

The Charters, one of the families that founded Northern Plains and Bull Mountain Land Alliance over 50 years ago, are among those facing this underhanded tactic. The mine recently informed the Charters that it plans to take over the entirety of their property for the purpose of “continuing mine development activities,” legally obligating the Charters to sell their land to the mine at a price that would not be enough for them to replace their present ranching operations. Simultaneously, SPE is cancelling their leased land as well.

The Charters are supposed to vacate all of their cattle by September 1. They are doing everything they can to fight this, and stay on the land their family has stewarded for four generations. Meanwhile, members are informing decision-makers and the surrounding community of how SPE is treating their neighbors and how the company can’t get away with these land grabbing tactics.

Boyd Charter, named after his grandfather who stood up to coal companies in the Bull Mountains a half-century ago, expressed his frustration:

“As long as they stay on top of fixing the cracks and water, the mine could be cooperative and try to work with us. There’s so many other ways that they could be neighborly. We’re just trying to ranch, and we’ve only tried to ranch for the 50 years we’ve had to be in this fight.”

In the face of all of this, Bull Mountain Land Alliance members came together to develop a public message about this struggle for justice, which you can read below.

Bull Mountain Land Alliance’s message:

The Bull Mountains are worth protecting. The abundant wildlife, rugged hills, and expansive grasslands have sustained generations of Montanans who live, ranch, and recreate here. Signal Peak Energy, an underground coal-mining corporation funded by callous billionaires, has proven it cannot be a trusted neighbor. The criminally-convicted company has bullied landowners, illegally dumped toxic slurry, and threatened the livelihoods of local residents.

We cannot allow Signal Peak’s reckless abuse of our fragile watershed to go by without holding them accountable. Given its culture of criminal misdeeds, this company has also forfeited any right to expand its operations. Montanans do not need another corrupt corporation emptying our communities, exploiting our natural resources, changing the landscape forever, and leaving us the financial burden to repair the damage.

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