Earlier this week, Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine went to court to argue that the state of Montana was legally required to consider steps to minimize the consequences of burning more than a half-a-billion tons of coal before leasing it to St. Louis-based Arch Coal, Inc. Earthjustice is representing the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club in a lawsuit asking the court to cancel the lease so that the state may study options for minimizing or avoiding the environmental consequences of this massive strip mine.
Arch Coal also has leased coal on adjacent private lands, which combined with the state-leased coal, amount to 1.3 billion tons. If developed, the Otter Creek strip mine would be one of the largest coal mines in the country. Arch is making plans to ship at least a portion of this coal to Asia by way of west coast ports. Once burned, the coal will emit billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, not to mention mercury, lead and a host of other nasty byproducts.
In many parts of Montana and Wyoming, coal is as plentiful as dirt and it’s cheap and profitable for the mining companies. But it’s not a huge employer since it only takes a handful of people to operate the heavy equipment needed to scrape this dirty fuel out of the ground and dump it into rail cars.
Our lawsuit is driven by a belief that, in the 21st century, a nation that prides itself on innovation should not be making new investments in a 19th century fuel that is spoiling our air, water and climate. This legal challenge follows on our work to stop new coal plants from opening and forcing the oldest and dirtiest existing plants to either clean up or shut down.