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By Tom Lutey, Billings Gazette

Coal Mine

A federal judge has blocked Signal Peak mine from beginning a 175-million-ton expansion into coal on federal land, at least until the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement studies the environmental impacts.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy on Friday halted the expansion of the mine, located 40 miles north of Billings. OSMRE will have to not only complete an environmental impact statement of the expansion of the project, but also find that any damage done is acceptable.

Signal Peak is Montana’s only underground coal mine. It employs roughly 250 people and operates solely as a coal exporter, with customers in Japan, South Korea and South America. The mine is owned by Ohio-based First Energy and international commodity trader Gunvor Group.

Several expansions of the mine have taken place through the lighter regulatory touch of environmental assessments, which last April the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said amounted to ignoring environmental impacts. The choice to approve the expansion without thorough environmental study was a Trump-era decision by OSMRE, a branch of The Department of Interior.


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