Interior clears Spring Creek coal mine area through court-ordered review process

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the parent Interior Dept. on Oct. 3 told the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana that they have signed off on a final new environmental review, ordered by the court on Jan. 21, for a new permit area at Cloud Peak Energy‘s Spring Creek coal mine in Montana.

Environmental groups in 2014 sued OSMRE and related parties, saying the agency failed to conduct a proper environmental review of the new mine area for this Powder River Basin operation in Big Horn County. The court had ordered that vacatur of the challenged mining plan decision be deferred for a period of 240 days (up from the 180 days recommended by the Magistrate Judge) while these federal agencies prepared an “updated environmental assessment,” The 240 day period was later increased to 256 days.

Said the Oct. 3 filing at the court: “Now Federal Defendants advise the Court and the parties that, in accord with the Order’s requirements, OSMRE has completed the required EA, which examines the direct, indirect and cumulative environmental effects of the Spring Creek mining plan approval. Based on this analysis, which was aided by ample public participation, the agency signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (‘FONSI’).

“On October 3, 2016, based on these documents and OSMRE’s recommendation, the Assistant Secretary approved the mining plan modification. … Accordingly, Federal Defendants have now complied with the Court’s January 21, 2016 Order and request that judgment in this matter be entered.”

OSMRE’s contested approval authorized mining activities on 1,111.7 acres of federal coal lease MTM94378 within the existing, state-approved mine permit boundary.

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows that the Spring Creek mine produced 4.2 million tons in the first half of this year, and 17 million tons in all of 2015.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.