NPRC files suit against coal lease in Montana

Landowners filed suit last week against a 2012 federal coal lease in Musselshell County in Montana. The suit alleges that the BLM failed to look at impacts that coal mining is having on ranching in the Bull Mountains. Ranchers argue that the lease, if mined, could push them off their land.

“The BLM’s study said that the surface effects of underground coal mining would be minimal and short-lived, but that’s not what we’re seeing on the ground at all,” said Steve Charter, who ranches above coal included in the federal lease and is chairman of Northern Plains Resource Council. “We’ve had cracks as big as 15 feet wide by 19 feet deep, and some cracks are persisting for years even though the mine said they’d heal on their own.”

When underground coal seams are mined, they produce cracks in the ground above where the coal was removed, a process known as subsidence. These cracks pose a risk to surface water resources, as well as human and livestock safety.

“If one of these subsidence cracks drains the wrong spring, our ranching operation just got a lot more difficult,” said Charter. “Agriculture is important to the Bull Mountains and we hope it can stay here.”

In addition to the impacts of expanding current mining methods, Northern Plains members are concerned about the impacts of new mining methods, such as open-pit surface mining, as the mine expands.

“Signal Peak Energy is talking about strip mining in the Bulls, as well as mining additional seams of the coal that they already have,” said Ellen Pfister who ranches above Signal Peak Energy’s Bull Mountain coal mine. “The BLM’s coal lease gave Signal Peak 25 seams of coal, and they’re already talking about mining three of them, even though the BLM only looked at the impacts and charged them for mining one. If they mine under my ranch three-plus times to get at those other seams, I worry that I’m done for.”

In addition to the impacts of coal mining, landowners are concerned about the hidden subsidy in the coal lease. “By giving away 25 coal seams for the price of one, the BLM has shorted taxpayers out of an incredible amount of revenue,” said Charter. “With evidence that Vladimir Putin may secretly control up to 75 percent of part-owner Gunvor, it looks like the BLM might have cut a sweetheart deal for Putin’s golden parachute. We shouldn’t subsidize hostile foreign interests. The BLM ought to have to take a look at everything they’re giving away and to whom.”

Gunvor, an international commodities trader, bought into the coal mine in 2011 to boost coal exports.

–Northern Plains Resource Council