The expansion of the Spring Creek Mine in Montana will be delayed following a ruling for U.S. District Judge Susan Watters who instructed the U.S. Interior Department to re-examine the proposed 117 million st expansion.
The Associated Press reported that Watters sided with environmentalists who sued over the project's potential to make climate change worse and cause other environmental damage.
The Interior Department was given nine months to look again at the proposal for the Spring Creek mine near the Wyoming border. In its prior review, the agency "failed to take a hard look" at the expansion, Watters wrote.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, WildEarth Guardians, is pursuing a broad legal campaign against the coal industry, through lawsuits challenging decisions affecting 11 mines in five states. The group has sought to highlight how burning the fuel contributes to climate change.
Watters' decision follows similar rulings affecting two coal mines in Colorado and hits to the industry from company bankruptcies and falling domestic and international demand for coal. Plus, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell imposed a moratorium last week on new coal sales from public lands pending a review of the program that is expected to take up to three years.
Canceling the permit for the expansion of the Spring Creek mine would trigger layoffs for most of the mine's 275 workers, mine owner Cloud Peak Energy has warned. The expansion would keep mining going at least through 2022.
But the government violated public notice provisions in its handling of Cloud Peak's mining application, Watters said in her ruling.
Much of the judge's findings were in line with recommendations from U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby, who reviewed the case last year. But Watters' nine-month deadline is three months longer than Ostby recommended, coming after government officials said they needed more time to finish the required work.
Watters ordered monthly updates on the Interior Department's progress and said the deadline could be extended if necessary.
The two other plaintiffs in the case — the Northern Plains Resource Council and Western Organization of Resource Councils — had claimed in part that Cloud Peak did not successfully restore previously mined lands.