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Signal Peak appeals order halting expansion of Bull Mountains mine


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Signal Peak appeals order halting expansion of Bull Mountains mine

Signal Peak Energy LLC is seeking a stay to a court ruling that halted the planned expansion of its Bull Mountains coal mine in Montana, saying it could prompt layoffs of roughly 30 employees by the end of October.

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana vacated the expansion approval for the mining plan on Aug. 14 and ordered the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to conduct further analysis, saying its original evaluation inflated the benefits of the mine expansion and minimized the impacts.

"The illogical conclusion that the expansion would cause no net greenhouse-gas impacts, and that analysis of other coal emissions would be speculative, did not resolve the uncertainty of air pollution impacts of burning Bull Mountains coal. The enforcement office did not take a hard look at the mining plan's effects on air pollution in its intensity evaluation," U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy wrote.

Signal Peak filed for a stay of the injunction Sept. 11, and requested a briefing schedule and opportunity for an evidentiary hearing on the appropriate remedy. However, the district court issued a two-page order Oct. 2 denying the company's requests.

The coal producer is now asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene.

Aside from the potential layoffs this month, the company noted that the order could risk 50 more jobs in March 2018, as well as 80 mining jobs and 100 surface jobs in June 2019.

"The failure to allow a full briefing and evidentiary hearing process below increases the likelihood that these injuries will occur," according to the Oct. 5 court filing.

If the injunction is not lifted by Oct. 26, Signal Peak and its workforce will suffer irreparable injury and will be forced to begin the process of laying off employees, the filing stated.