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Coal Advocates, Environmental Groups, Continue Fight Over Coal And Climate Change

A Coal Mine in the Powder River basin.
U.S. Geological Survey

A federal judge’s ruling last week that requires the government to further consider climate change when planning coal development is getting mixed reactions from coal industry advocates and environmental groups.

Last Friday, Great Falls District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the federal Bureau of Land Management must consider mining less coal, in the county’s biggest coal region, when analyzing mining’s impact on climate change.

The ruling could reduce coal mining in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.

“There are certainly jobs that are put in jeopardy with these kinds of decisions,” said Chuck Denowh, a spokesperson for Count on Coal Montana. 

He says less coal is not the answer, but instead more research should be done to find cleaner ways to mine and burn it.

“And if we’re serious is combating climate change and energy poverty around the world then we have to get serious about carbon capture and sequestration," Denowh said. "And that means we need to build new coal plants where that technology can be deployed.”

Environmental groups, who are praising the judge’s ruling, push back on the notion that any coal can be considered clean.

Derf Johnson is staff attorney with the Montana Environmental Information Center.

“That’s just silly, it doesn’t pass the laugh test," Johnson said. "There is no such thing as clean coal. It’s just a tangent and a road we don’t need to go down. We have viable, clean, alternatives that don’t require coal mining that comes with a whole host of environmental and health impacts that clean energy does not have.”

The lawsuit challenging the BLM’s current coal mining policies and planning in the Powder River Basin was filed in March of 2016 by the Western Environmental Law center, on behalf of the Montana Environmental Information Center, and other groups.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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