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Judge Gives Green Light to Otter Creek Coal Lawsuit

January 11, 2011

HELENA, Mont. - Round one in the court case challenging the state's decision to lease Otter Creek coal goes to local property owners and environmental organizations. A judge has ruled against the state and Arch Coal's request to dismiss the lawsuit, which alleges that state environmental law was not followed in the leasing decision by the State Land Board.

Anne Hedges, program director at the Montana Environmental Information Center, one of the groups that filed suit, says the project affects water supplies, property rights and wildlife, and those things weren't considered before the project was cleared.

"The development of coal resources is not just something that goes in the benefit column for the state. There are serious impacts that occur at the local level, at the state level, and at the national level."

Mark Fix is a Tongue River rancher who is a member and past chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council. About three miles of his property would likely be taken through eminent domain to make way for a railroad to move the coal, which isn't needed locally and likely to be shipped overseas.

"And so it doesn't seem too fair to me that we could be condemned for coal that's going to another country, to China, possibly."

The State Land Board approved the lease as a way to raise revenue, and proponents also touted the project in terms of job creation. The case now moves to State District Court.

The Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation also joined the lawsuit, which was argued by Earthjustice attorneys.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT