Montana District Court Rules Lawsuit Against Otter Creek Coal Mine May Proceed -- Mining Implicates Constitutional Right to a Clean and Healthful Environment
January 14, 2011
Sierra Club and the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) achieved a significant, preliminary legal victory when a District Court Judge ruled that their lawsuit challenging the Otter Creek Coal Mine in Montana may proceed on the merits. On January 7, 2011, District Court Judge Joe Hagel denied the state and Arch Coal’s motion to dismiss the case, which alleges that the state should have considered environmental, economic, and public health threats before leasing the Otter Creek coal reserves to Arch Coal for strip mining.
The Otter Creek coal tracts contain approximately 1.3 billion tons of coal that, when burned, would emit roughly 2.4 billion tons of climate-disrupting pollution into the atmosphere. The environmental groups contend that a state law exempting coal leasing from environmental review under the Montana Environmental Policy Act violates the Montana Constitution, which guarantees Montanans the right to a clean and healthful environment. While the state argued that it will consider environmental impacts at a later stage, the environmental groups countered that once the lease is signed, the state gives up the right to condition coal mining on measures to limit the global warming pollution from coal combustion. The court agreed with the environmental groups and explained that the defendants’ position would allow state agencies “to convert public property rights to private property rights, stripping away [the Montana law’s] special protections before even considering possible environmental consequences.” The court also ruled that the environmental groups have made “at least a cognizable claim” that the Montana law exempting coal leasing from environmental review violates the state constitution.
The case will now proceed on the merits. Sierra Club and MEIC are represented by Earthjustice.
Details and Documents:
District Court Rules In Favor of Environmental Challenge to Destructive Mine Proposal
January 10, 2011, Sierra Club et al. Press Release
Court Order Denying Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
January 7, 2011, Montana Sixteenth Judicial District Court, Powder River County
Suit against Montana coal lease can go on
January 10, 2011, Associated Press
Nations That Debate Coal Use Export It to Feed China’s Need
November 21, 2010 by Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times
See other "Stopping Mountaintop Removal and Other Destructive Mining" cases.