Montana Environmental Information Center

Clean and healthful. It's your right, our mission.

The Urgency of Protecting Montana’s Water in the Time of a Collapsing Coal Industry

Guest Post by Shiloh Hernandez, Western Environmental Law Center

The Montana Board of Environmental Review recently determined that Montana DEQ unlawfully issued a permit to Signal Peak Energy to expand its coal-mining operation by approximately 7000 acres in the Bull Mountains, an area historically and currently used for ranching. The expansion would have given Signal Peak Energy access to approximately 176 million tons of coal reserves.

DEQ’s approval of this expansion was unlawful because, among other reasons, DEQ entirely ignored the impacts of long-term water pollution. As elsewhere in our arid state, water is the lifeblood of the Bull Mountains, and the area’s ranching economy cannot continue without clean, available water.

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Victory: Expanded Grizzly Bear Protections near Glacier Park

by Kyla Maki

On August 31, 2015, the Montana State Land Board unanimously approved a legal settlement between several environmental organizations, including MEIC, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The agreement will preserve critical habitat protections for grizzly bears on State lands in northwestern Montana near Glacier National Park. Following the Land Board’s approval, U.S. district court judge Donald Molloy also approved the settlement.

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Two Major Victories on Coal Mining and Exports

by Derf Johnson

2015 has been a critical year in the transition from carbon-based fuels such as coal to cleaner energy sources, and MEIC has been instrumental in this movement. This Fall, there were two very notable victories that will help to keep coal in the ground. These victories were made possible by the work of MEIC’s staff and its partner organizations, as well as the support of MEIC’s dedicated membership.
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Warning: Smith River Mine Application Expected Any Day

by Derf Johnson

Smith 2The application to develop an underground copper mine that would be adjacent to and directly underneath one of the Smith River’s most important tributaries will land on the desk of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) any day now. This application will, if approved, allow Tintina Resources, a Canadian company, (and its majority owner, Sandfire, an Australian mining firm), to move forward with a large-scale copper mine that could have irreparable impacts on the Smith River watershed. It is absolutely critical that the public be heavily engaged in DEQ’s review process in order to hold Tintina/Sandfire’s and DEQ’s “feet to the fire.”

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Victory: Protecting Clean Water and Preventing Coal Exports

The Signal Peak coal mine in Montana. Photo by Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette.

The Signal Peak coal mine in Montana. Photo by Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette.

by Anne Hedges

Signal Peak Energy wants its Bull Mountain mine to become the largest underground coal mine in the nation. Most of the coal that is currently mined is shipped to Asian markets. Fortunately, Signal Peak’s expansion plans hit a major snag last week due in large part to some great legal representation by Western Environmental Law Center’s Shiloh Hernandez.

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The Smith River Mine is NOT a Local Project

By Derf Johnson

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A mailer sent to Smith River permit applicants by Canada based Tintina Resources.

As Canada based Tintina and Australia based Sandfire ready to submit a permit application for the Smith River mine (As early as November 2015), they’ve dramatically stepped up their public relations and outreach efforts. The companies are attempting to weave a narrative that the project is local. They’ve made some local folks, Jerry Zieg and Nancy Schlepp, the primary spokespeople and front for their efforts. I’m sure the two of them are great folks, but the fact of the matter is that this mine is not a local proposal, no matter how they can try to spin it or manufacture a fiction.

In fact, this project is controlled and backed by people across the world who sit in the board rooms of sky rises and make decisions based upon excel spreadsheets, not out of a storefront in White Sulphur Springs.

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Even When You Win You Lose

MEIC wins lawsuit against coal plant – despite erroneous press reports

By Anne Hedges

Colstrip Power Plant

The Colstrip coal-fired power complex, the largest polluter in Montana.

This week MEIC and other conservation groups prevailed in court. Let me say that another way, we won. But you’d never know it by the press reports. In an odd and unusual twist, the reporter got the story exactly wrong. He wrote that we lost and the owners of the Colstrip coal-fired power plant won. The Colstrip spokesperson said that when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its 2012 rule on haze pollution from power plants, EPA sided with environmentalists. PPL said it challenged that EPA decision and the court ruled for them, and against EPA and environmentalists. In his words, it was a complete victory for Colstrip. Too bad for him that he’s wrong.

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Yellowstone River oil pipeline disasters. Wrong again. Wrong again. Wrong again.

TransCanada, the backers of Keystone XL are making similar promises that they are unlikely to honor.

by Derf Johnson

Most Montanans woke up to the terrible news on Monday that, yet again, an oil pipeline ruptured toxic crude into the Yellowstone River. Initial reports estimated that up to 50,000 gallons of crude oil had been released into the Yellowstone from a pipeline that was last inspected 3 years ago, is allegedly buried 8 feet below the surface, is owned by Bridger Pipeline, and is directly upstream from the City of Glendive.

Almost immediately, officials went on record proclaiming that they were “unaware of any threats to public safety or health.” How they were unaware that there were any threats to public health while at least 50,000 gallons of toxic crude began to float down the Yellowstone, contaminate a major river and a source of drinking water for millions of Americans, and poison aquatic species and wildlife, is beyond me.

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Top 5 Offensive Provisions of the Public Lands Rider

by Anne Hedges

“When you’re willing to compromise your principles you’ve given up. You abandon them. When you compromise nature, nature gets compromised.”

Conservation Pioneer Martin Litton who died on Nov. 30, 2014

These words were prescient of this week’s grand compromise to pass two great pieces of legislation and give the Northern Cheyenne their rightful land. But the cost is far too high, even for these important gains.

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We Know We Are Winning When… the Fossil Fuel Industry Says So

PowerPoint PresentationBy Anne Hedges

Okay, winning might be a stretch – there is no winning with climate change. But the biggest battle-front today involves convincing people, and thereby politicians, that the threat of climate change is real and solutions are necessary and affordable. The clean energy shift will snowball when we can overcome the hurdles thrown up by climate deniers and morally corrupt fossil fuel tycoons (in fact that snowball effect is already happening despite them…but I digress).

So how is industry saying we’re winning? An industry front group conducted a poll that says so. The group, Partnership for a Better Energy Future, is made up of 175 organizations whose names contain words like “coal,” “chamber,” “lignite,” “petroleum,” and “mining.” Shockingly their Montana poll results show Montanans care about climate change.

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