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Conservation groups intervene against Signal Peak’s lawsuit seeking to rush review of nation’s largest underground coal mine

May 6, 2024
Kelly Fuller, WildEarth Guardians, kfuller@wildearthguardians.org 
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#ClimateJustice, #JustTransition, #KeepItInTheGround, #PressStatement
HELENA, Mont. — Today, conservation groups simultaneously moved to intervene and dismiss a lawsuit brought by Signal Peak Energy, which is seeking to force the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to rush the environmental review of a proposed 175-million-ton expansion at its Bull Mountains coal mine in Montana. 

OSMRE’s review is the result of a successful challenge brought by the conservation groups, resulting in a favorable 9th Circuit Court ruling that halted the expansion of one of the nation’s largest remaining underground coal mines because OSMRE failed to adequately analyze and disclose the mine’s climate impacts. Signal Peak recently filed a lawsuit against OSMRE seeking a court order compelling OSMRE to complete the required environmental review months ahead of schedule.  

“Signal Peak doesn’t want us to have a moment of climate sanity,” said Kelly Fuller, Climate and Energy Program Director of WildEarth Guardians. “The Trump administration purposefully ignored the disastrous climate and health impacts of expanding coal mining and now the company is trying to undermine the Biden administration’s chance at doing a meaningful analysis of how it would harm the U.S. economy and residents.” 

Signal Peak’s lawsuit is among the first asserting that a federal agency failed to comply with new National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) timelines put in place as a result of the 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Act. Those timelines generally allow agencies two years to prepare an impact statement (EIS) and one year for an environmental assessment (EA). OSMRE’s two-year timeframe to prepare the EIS still has at least seven months remaining. What’s more, the Fiscal Responsibility Act specifically authorizes agencies to extend those deadlines, after consulting with project sponsors, when the agency, in its discretion, needs additional time to adequately analyze and disclose impacts as required by NEPA.

“This is a meritless argument intended to undermine environmental protections and protect corporate profits for a company that has been found guilty of lying to regulators, illegally disposing of toxic waste, and making unsafe conditions for workers,” said Shiloh Hernandez, senior attorney at Earthjustice. “Environmental analyses are critical for understanding the impacts of mining on water, local agriculture, recreation and wildlife. Signal Peak’s repeated efforts to avoid scrutiny and accountability for the devastating impacts of its mine must end.” 

“Signal Peak is pushing an interpretation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act’s National Environmental Policy Act amendments that would constrain agency discretion to complete the thorough environmental review NEPA demands,” said Melissa Hornbein, Senior Attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Signal Peak has tried relentlessly to avoid reasonable environmental review for this polluting mine. The company’s latest efforts to undermine informed agency decision-making must again be stopped—this time in the context of this mine and more broadly in the interpretation of these amendments.”

“What Montana needs is a clean energy transition that helps our communities and workers have a more sustainable future where we avoid the worst impacts of climate change and preserve our vital water resources for the next generation’s ranchers,” stated Derf Johnson, Deputy Director of MEIC. “This lawsuit only slows and distracts from  the need to have real conversations about how to best manage our shared public lands, protect local economies, and learn from our history of corporate exploitation and boom bust cycles.” 

Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC), 350 Montana, Montana Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Wildearth Guardians, and the Western Environmental Law Center have closely followed and intervened on the proposed Bull Mountain mine expansion that would release a shocking 240 million tons of climate pollution — the equivalent of adding over 50 million cars to U.S. roads for a single year. 

Last year, a New York Times investigation of Signal Peak revealed the company has links to Vladimir Putin and participated in bribery, embezzlement, drug trafficking and enabled worker injuries.

Conservation groups are represented here by attorneys at Earthjustice, Western Environmental Law Center, and Sierra Club. 


Other Contact
Noah Rott, Sierra Club, noah.rott@sierraclub.org, 406-214-1990, Perry Wheeler, Earthjustice,  pwheeler@earthjustice.org, Derf Johnson, Montana Environmental Information Center, djohnson@meic.org, Melissa Hornbein, Western Environmental Law Center, hornbein@westernlaw.org