Description: Challenge to federal approval of expansion of a coal strip-mine in Montana.
Montana Environmental Information Center v. Haaland
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 09/30/2022 Order Download Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment granted. Montana Federal Court Said Agency Must Quantify Coal Mine Expansion’s Greenhouse Gas Impacts but Did Not Have to Use Social Cost of Carbon. The federal district court for the District of Montana adopted a magistrate judge’s recommendation that the court find that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) must quantify the socioeconomic costs of the greenhouse gas emissions of a coal mine expansion because OSM had quantified the expansion’s economic benefits. The court rejected, however, the magistrate judge’s conclusion that OSM was required to use the social cost of carbon to quantify those costs. The court cited the Ninth Circuit’s April 2022 decision in 350 Montana v. Haaland holding that use of the social cost of carbon was not required. In this case, the district court found that OSM provided an acceptable rationale for not using the social cost of carbon—that it was too uncertain to provide value and was not designed for project-level analysis. The court reminded OSM, however, “of its obligation to provide high quality, accurate scientific analysis on the economic costs” of greenhouse gases from the expansion on remand. Regarding other environmental review issues, the court agreed with the magistrate judge that OSM failed to take the required hard look at cumulative impacts to surface water and indirect effects on water withdrawals from the Yellowstone River and that OSM’s alternatives analysis violated the National Environmental Policy Act. 04/15/2022 Response Download Response filed by the federal defendants to objections to the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 04/15/2022 Response Download Response filed by intervenors to objections to magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 04/15/2022 Response Download Plaintiffs filed combined response to objections to magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 03/18/2022 Objection Download Objections to the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations filed by the federal defendants. 03/18/2022 Objection Download Objections filed by intervenors to magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 03/18/2022 Objection Download Objections filed by plaintiffs to the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 02/11/2022 Findings and Recommendations Download Magistrate judge recommended that plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment be granted in part. Federal Magistrate Judge Said Analysis of Montana Coal Mine Expansion’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Was Arbitrary. A magistrate judge in the federal district court for the District of Montana recommended that the court rule that the environmental impact statement (EIS) for expansion of a surface coal mine in Montana failed to take a hard look at greenhouse gas emissions (or at cumulative impacts to surface water or the effects of water withdrawals from the Yellowstone River by a nearby power plant that uses coal from the mine). Regarding greenhouse gas emissions, the magistrate judge found that because the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) elected to quantify the proposed expansion’s economic benefits, it was also required to quantify the project’s costs, including the costs of greenhouse gas emissions, or to offer a non-arbitrary explanation for the decision not to do so. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that “OSM’s analysis of greenhouse gas emissions was arbitrary and its record justifications for not using the [social cost of carbon (SCC) protocol] lack merit.” The court rejected the defendants’ argument that the variability in the SCC protocol’s calculations justified the decision not to use it; the court stated that “the fact the SCC Protocol is expressed in a range of values is not necessarily a valid reason to decline to quantify the costs of greenhouse gas emissions altogether.” The court found, moreover, that even if OSM could justify the decision not to use the SCC protocol, the EIS failed to demonstrate why the agency could not present “a balanced quantitative analysis of the economic costs of greenhouse gas emissions.” 06/15/2021 Motion for Summary Judgment Download Federal defendants filed brief in support of cross-motion for summary judgment and in opposition to plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. 06/15/2021 Motion for Summary Judgment Download Intervenors filed brief in support of cross motion for summary judgment and response in opposition to plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. 01/25/2021 Order Download Motion for preliminary injunction denied. Montana Federal Court Rejected Request to Halt Coal Mining in Expansion Area. The federal district court for the District of Montana denied a motion for a preliminary injunction enjoining mining operations in an expansion area for the Rosebud Mine, a coal mine in Montana. The court noted that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement had approved the mine’s expansion in June 2019 but that the plaintiffs had not sought the preliminary injunction until August 2020. The court stated that “[u]nfortunately, the Court does not see what harm a preliminary injunction could prevent now that excavation in [the expansion area] has been ongoing since at least May 2020 and coal extraction since August 2020.” The court also found that the plaintiffs had not met their burden of demonstrating that a preliminary injunction would prevent irreparable harm from the release of greenhouse gases. The court indicated that the plaintiffs had conceded that halting mining in the expansion area would not affect the level of greenhouse gas emissions from a nearby power plant that used coal from the mine. 07/29/2020 Findings and Recommendations Download Findings and recommendations issued recommending that motion to dismiss for lack of standing be granted in part and denied in part. Montana Federal Magistrate Found that Standing Allegations in Coal Mine Expansion Challenge Were Inadequate for Some Plaintiffs. A magistrate judge in the federal district court for the District of Montana recommended that the court grant in part and deny in part a Montana coal mine owner’s motion to dismiss a National Environmental Policy Act challenge to federal approval of the mine’s expansion. The mine, known as the Rosebud Mine, is a 25,949-acre surface coal mine, and expansion would increase the mine’s size by approximately 6,500 acres. The magistrate found that two of the organizations had adequately alleged standing but that the standing allegations of three other organizations were insufficient. The magistrate recommended that the three organizations be allowed to amend the complaint with additional allegations. 07/29/2020 Order Download Motion to transfer denied. Montana Federal Magistrate Denied Motion to Transfer Coal Mine Expansion Lawsuit to D.C.. A magistrate judge in the federal district court for the District of Montana denied a Montana coal mine owner’s motion to transfer a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) challenge to federal approval of the mine’s expansion to the federal district court in the District of Columbia, where the owner is challenging the exclusion of 74 acres from the mine expansion approval. Among other factors weighing against transfer, the magistrate found that there was not substantial overlap between the two cases because the issues in this case—which included impacts on surface waters and greenhouse gas emissions—were broader than the NEPA issues raised in the mine owner’s lawsuit. The court also found that the case implicated both local concerns (harm to waters, endangered species, and the local economy) and national interests (climate change), making the “local interests” factor neutral. 07/09/2020 Complaint Download Third amended complaint filed. 11/18/2019 Complaint Download Complaint filed. Lawsuit Said Federal Approval of Coal Mine Expansion Missed Opportunity to Plan for “Just Transition”. Five organizations challenged federal approval of expansion of the Rosebud coal strip-mine in Colstrip, Montana. In a complaint filed in federal district court in Montana, the plaintiffs cited a “warning” by the Montana Department of Health and Environmental Sciences in 1973 regarding economic reliance on “exploitation” of coal and alleged that in approving an expansion of the mine, the federal defendants had “refused to heed this warning and failed to use their considerable resources to outline what a just transition would look like in Colstrip.” The plaintiffs asserted violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, including failure to evaluate the greenhouse gas pollution from combustion of the mined coal despite monetizing the economic benefits of the mine expansion. The complaint also asserted that the defendants failed to consider a reasonable range of alternatives, including a “middle-ground alternative that involved mining less coal.” The complaint said failure to consider such an alternative “precluded the agency from examining in detail any just transition alternative and increase[d] the likelihood that an abrupt ‘bust’ … will come to pass.”