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Louisville, Kentucky β€” A Montana state agency has rejected a 2013 permit issued to Signal Peak Energy for a major expansion of its Signal Peak bituminous coal longwall mine, formerly known as Bull Mountain, near Roundup in Musselshell County.

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The Friday decision by the Montana Board of Environmental Review sends the permit covering approximately 7,100 acres back to the state Department of Environmental Quality for further consideration once the decision is finalized at an upcoming meeting, probably on December 4, board spokeswoman Lisa Peterson said in a Monday interview.

The acreage contains an estimated 110 million st of recoverable coal, enough to last for almost a decade.

The board voted 4 to 1 to grant summary judgment to the Montana Environmental Information Center in its appeal of the October 2013 permit amendment to expand Signal Peak. MEIC officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

Peterson said the board determined the hydrologic impact assessment portion of the DEQ ruling, centered on the mine's potential long-term impact on groundwater, was flawed.

The board "decided to vacate the permit amendment and remand the hydrologic analysis to DEQ for further work," she added.

Signal Peak spokesman Mike Dawson released a statement Monday saying the company is "currently reviewing the board's decision to determine the impact" on the mine. He declined further comment, except to confirm Signal Peak continues to operate as usual.

The mine's production has been declining slowly but steadily over the past couple of years. From a high of 8.6 million st in 2013, Signal Peak's output dipped to 7.9 million st in 2014, according to the US Mine Safety and Health Administration. Production was about 4.8 million st through the first three quarters of 2015.

Most of the mine's coal is sold overseas.

Signal Peak is Montana's only underground coal mine. It is co-owned by two Ohio companies, FirstEnergy and Boich Companies, and Pinesdale LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Swiss commodity trader Gunvor.

--Bob Matyi,
--Edited by Lisa Miller,