District Court Judge Joe Hegel today ruled that the Sierra Club and the Montana Environmental Information Center had brought reasonable claims against the State of Montana and St. Louis-based Arch Coal regarding the proposed leasing of the Otter Creek coal reserves.
The environmental groups praised Judge Hegel’s decision to deny the government and Arch Coal’s motion to dismiss the case, which alleges that the state should have taken environmental, economic, and public health threats into consideration before leasing 587 million tons of coal to Arch for strip mining. Sierra Club and MEIC are represented by Earthjustice in the case and joined by Northern Plains Resource Council and the National Wildlife Federation.
“Otter Creek belongs to the people of Montana,” said Mike Scott, a Sierra Club Representative in Montana. “We deserve to have all the relevant information available to us before we decide whether or not to lease coal for the incredibly destructive process of strip mining.”
“There is nothing more precious than water in south east Montana,” Scott continued. “We need to know how this mine will impact the groundwater before we commit our resources to be mined. Asian countries, such as China, India, and Japan, are becoming increasingly interested in Montana’s coal resources and are the likely destination of Otter Creek coal. Do we want to sacrifice our water, land, and air to serve as Asia’s resource colony? I don’t!”
Jenny Harbine, Staff Attorney for Earthjustice, went on to add, “The most fundamental aspect of Montana's environmental law says that we must look before we leap into actions that could cause permanent harm. This decision gives the public an opportunity to argue that Otter Creek and the people and wildlife who depend on the environmental health of this part of the state are worth protecting.”
”The court said that the projects environmental impacts could implicate our constitutional right” said Anne Hedges, of the Montana Environmental Information Center. “Montanans have a constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment and environmental review is a critical process that allows citizens to protect that right.”
The Otter Creek coal tracts contain approximately 1.3 billion tons of coal, that when burned will emit roughly 2.4 billion tons of climate-disrupting pollution into the atmosphere. Coupled with the environmental degradation that will take place at the mine site, environmentalists are maintaining that this project poses a significant threat to public lands and public health.