MISSOULA - A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Signal Peak Energy can mine and stockpile coal at its Roundup mine, pending completion of a larger environmental review.
The decision by U.S. Ninth Circuit District Court Judge Donald W. Molloy would help protect 30 jobs at the mine, according to Signal Peak officials, but also directs that the coal on federal land not be shipped or sold. The company is only allowed to stockpile up to 170,000 tons, according to the order.
“We’re very pleased with the judge’s decision, and especially for our employees. In the interim, we’re going to keep trying to make progress so that we can keep the mine open and keep as many people employed as we can,” Mike Dawson, a Signal Peak spokesman, told MTN News Tuesday night.
The Tuesday decision was the latest in a legal scuffle between Signal Peak and the Montana Environmental Center, which sued the mine and the federal government in an effort to block a proposed expansion.
In August, Molloy had ruled an immediate halt to Signal Peak's expansion of 176 million tons in the Bull Mountains south of Roundup. The company requested a stay in the ruling earlier this month, according to court filings.
Molloy had ruled that the company and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining had ignored the potential environmental harm of transporting coal over rail lines to the Pacific Northwest and shipping overseas to Asia.
Anne Hedges, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said she was happy the company would not have to cut any of its roughly 260 workers."
"But this problem is a problem of the company’s own making by ignoring the law in the first place. And we’re disappointed that the law doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot. When a company can come in and say we don’t want to have to comply with the law or we might have to shut down…we would argue the law is not optional. The law is something they should have paid attention to years ago,” Hedges told MTN News.
She added that Signal Peak has wealthy backers who should be able to afford to keep the workers.
“We’re going to watch this like a hawk. We think this is a company that continually evades the law, and this isn’t the end of the story," she said.