By Anne Hedges
The Rosebud Mine is one of the largest coal strip mines in the nation and the sole source of coal for the Colstrip power complex. The 40,000-acre mine has a footprint larger than the city of Billing and has contaminated or depleted water resources surrounding the mine, yet the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) continues to issue new water pollution discharge permits contrary to the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
Most recently, DEQ approved a water pollution permit for a 9,000-acre expansion of the mine, which would result in the mining of an additional 62 million tons of coal. All area waters leaving the mine are already impaired by pollution, including Rosebud Creek. Rosebud Creek flows into a stretch of the Yellowstone River that is impaired for total dissolved solids (salts), nutrients, copper, lead, zinc, pH. and sediment. The expansion would only exacerbate the already-elevated levels of toxins and other harmful substances leaching from the mine.
Instead of protecting the area waters from increased pollution, DEQ evaded the legal requirements by reclassifying sections of prairie streams where the increased pollution would go and weakening the water pollution standard that the mine would have to meet. In doing so, DEQ failed to follow the legal process required to change the classification of the receiving waters and to allow higher levels of pollution, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made it clear that DEQ’s approach violates the Clean Water Act. On March 2, MEIC, Sierra Club, and Wildearth Guardians, represented by Earthjustice, challenged the permit issuance in state district court in Rosebud County.
This article was published in the March 2023 issue of Down To Earth.