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By CounterPunch News Service

HELENA, MONTANA—A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ panel has just ruled that Trump’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) wrongly approved an expansion of Signal Peak’s Bull Mountains coal mine located north of Billings, Montana. OSM largely ignored the fact that the proposed 175 million ton expansion would release 240 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution over 11 years. The court ruled OSM “hid the ball” about the climate and environmental impacts of expanding the mine.

The proposed expansion would make this the largest underground coal mine in the U.S. based on annual production. It would also result in more greenhouse gas emissions than any point source in the country.

This is another victory for environmental plaintiffs. In 2017, a federal judge ruled in favor of environmental protections and required OSM to conduct a proper analysis of the mine’s climate impacts. In the previous ruling the court found OSM had put its “thumb on the scale” by only considering the benefits of the mine and not the cost.

OSM’s subsequent 2018 environmental assessment was similarly flawed. It concluded the mine’s emissions would be insignificant because 240 million tons of greenhouse gases from the mine would appear small when compared to global greenhouse gas emissions. The 9th Circuit panel agreed with the conservation groups, saying this type of analysis would “predestine that emissions would appear relatively minor, even though, for each year of its operation, the coal from this project is expected to generate more greenhouse gas emissions than the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.”

“This is a significant victory against one of the largest coal mine expansions in the country,” Derf Johnson, staff attorney with the Montana Environmental Information Center said.“Moving forward, this ruling will also require the U.S. Office of Surface Mining to actually consider the extreme costs of continuing to burn coal and release carbon pollution into the atmosphere when it is conducting environmental analyses. It’s long past time for OSM to get serious about the climate crisis.”

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