By Darrell Ehrlick, Daily Montanan
Groups say HB 576, SB 392 violate federal law, pollute clean water
A coalition of Montana groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that newly passed laws that lawmakers say will speed up permitting of surface coal mines would have made the Copper Kings of Montana proud by gutting protections for the citizens and clean water.
The Montana Environmental Information Center, Sierra Club, Wildearth Guardians and Citizens for Clean Energy filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Great Falls on Thursday, challenging House Bill 576 and Senate Bill 392 – saying they were proposed by coal mining interests and meant to squelch public oversight.
House Bill 576, which was sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Knudsen, R-Culbertson, would make two significant changes to coal mining laws, which include allowing the state Department of Environmental Quality to issue permits without having complete information about how the coal operation may affect ground or surface water. It would also allow coal mining operations to violate water quality standards if there was no long-term impacts or if excessive pollution was for a limited time.
Senate Bill 392, which was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, changes the law to allow the government or coal mining companies to be awarded attorney’s fees from residents or groups that challenge the coal mining laws, even if those groups bring a good-faith claim that is nonetheless defeated in court action.