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By Barbara Grzincic, Reuters


(Reuters) – A divided federal appeals court on Monday revived a challenge by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to Signal Peak Energy’s expansion of its Bull Mountains Mine in Montana, but allowed the project to continue for now.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the U.S. Interior Department had offered “no convincing rationale” for its 2018 finding that the expansion’s effect on climate-warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be insignificant, even though burning its coal would “generate more GHG emissions annually than the largest single point source of GHG emissions in the United States.”

The 2-1 majority was “not persuaded” that the department must use the environmentalists’ chosen metric, known as the social cost of carbon, to quantify the project’s impact on GHG emissions. However, it berated the Interior Department for simply comparing the expansion to GHG emissions globally – a comparison “predestined” to make the impact look negligible.

If “a project of this scale can be found to have no significant impact, virtually every domestic source of GHGs may be deemed to have no significant impact,” Circuit Judge Morgan Christen wrote, joined by Circuit Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson.

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