Montana advances coal mine expansion, settles differences with owner

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Spring Creek Mine

Aerial view of the Cloud Peak Energy Spring Creek Mine near Decker, Montana. 

Montana has advanced an application for a major coal mine expansion and settled its differences with the new owner of the state’s largest coal mine.

The Department of Environmental Quality announced Thursday it has issued its final environmental impact statement of a major expansion of Spring Creek Mine and also resolved its concerns about the Navajo Transitional Energy Company’s sovereign immunity. NTEC is part of Navajo Nation, and its tribal sovereign immunity raised questions about whether Montana could sue NTEC, if necessary, to enforce state mining laws.

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Spring Creek Mine was temporarily shut down in August over the sovereignty issue. There are still obstacles ahead for NTEC. The tribal entity operates Spring Creek as a contract operator, doing business under the permit of former mine owner Spring Creek Coal LLC, which has gone bankrupt. NTEC needs to post a $110 million reclamation bond before the mining permits for Spring Creek Mine may be transferred to NTEC.

The mine expansion concerns 977 acres that are expected to yield 72 million tons of coal. DEQ emphasized it has yet to approve the expansion, but the EIS would guide its decision. The DEQ indicated the 72 million tons of additional coal would last Spring Creek about four years.

Spring Creek Mine was formerly owned by Cloud Peak Energy, which went bankrupt in 2019. 

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