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By Darrell Ehrlick, Daily Montanan/Fairfield Sun Times

Coal dust

Two environmental groups are hoping history won’t repeat itself.

The Montana Environmental Information Center and Sierra Club have challenged a massive expansion of the Westmoreland Coal Mining permit that was approved by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for Rosebud County. Westmoreland’s coal mining operation there is the sole provider of coal that feeds the Colstrip Power Plant. Owners of the plant are looking to close the plant by the end of 2025.

The groups have filed an appeal with the Montana Board of Environmental Review, which will review the decision. State law says that only mining companies can take a DEQ decision directly to court without first having a review by the Board of Environmental Review. State law also says that an appeal will not stop the approval granted by the DEQ, meaning the expansion can move forward while the appeal is still pending.

Anne Hedges, the director of policy and legislative affairs at MEIC, said that her organization challenged a similar expansion approved by the DEQ during the Steve Bullock administration in 2015, and that decision is still tied up in the courts. The MEIC won the case at the district court level, despite rulings by the DEQ and the Board of Environmental Review against it. The dispute, which has been ongoing for seven years, has not stopped the expansion or the mining nearby in Rosebud County.

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