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DOI approves expansion of Cloud Peak's Spring Creek mine in Montana

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DOI approves expansion of Cloud Peak's Spring Creek mine in Montana

The U.S. Department of the Interior has given the greenlight to the expansion of CloudPeak Energy Inc.'s Spring Creek coal mine in Montana after the U.S.Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released a "findingof no significant impact."

Robert Postle, manager of the Program Support Division ofOSMRE's Western Region, signed a document on Oct. 3 recommending approval ofexpansion and saying an Environmental Impact Statement was not required.

"[Postle] has determined that approval of a federalmining plan modification authorizing continuation of mining operations forapproximately nine more years and additional surface disturbance of approximately504 acres to recover the federal coal would not have a significant impact onthe quality of the human environment," the document said.

A federal judge orderedthe DOI in October 2015 to do another, deeper environmental analysis of themine expansion that was approved by the agency in 2012 after WildEarthGuardians sued the OSMRE.

The OSMRE document said that a new Environmental Assessmentfound the expansion's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions to Wyoming,Montana and U.S. totals "would be minor to moderately adverse andshort-term" and that "none of the environmental effects discussed inthe [environmental assessment] are considered to be significant."

Jeremy Nichols, the climate and energy program director ofWildEarth Guardians, told S&P Global Market Intelligence that the activistgroup was "disappointedthat the U.S. Office of Surface Mining continues to rubberstamp the coalindustry's demands and take no steps at all to try to address the climate impactsof more coal production."

Hesaid that the environmental assessment shows that the approval will lead to 30million metric tons of emissions for each of the next five years. "That isa substantial amount of carbon pollution, yet the agency claimed it wasn'tsignificant. We can't help but see this as another sign that climate denial isrunning rampant within the U.S. Department of the Interior," he said.

Rick Curtsinger, a Cloud Peak spokesperson, said the companywas looking forward to the final resolution of "this anti-fossil fuelactivist litigation" attempting to stop coal mining in the U.S., and thatSpring Creek had a long record of "strong environmental stewardship."

"We are pleased that the Office of Surface Mining hascompleted its thorough environmental review and re-approved the Spring Creekmining plan modification," he said in a statement. "Spring Creek Minesafely and responsibly continues to meet an important part of America's energyneeds while employing hundreds of people and contributing millions in tax androyalty revenue to the federal, state, and local governments and supporting ourlocal communities."

In the approval document, Postle indicated that theexpansion could bring "an extension of employment" for about 259employees, mostly from Sheridan County, Wyo., over a period of roughly nineyears.

The Spring Creek mine produced 4.2 million tons in the firsttwo quarters of 2016 and just under 17 million tons in 2015.