BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. officials improperly downplayed future climate change impacts when they approved a large expansion of an underground Montana coal mine that would release an estimated 190 million tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, a court ruled.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 ruling that Interior Department officials “hid the ball” under the Trump administration by failing to fully account for emissions from burning the fuel in a 2018 environmental analysis.
A judge previously ruled against the disputed expansion of the Signal Peak mine in 2017, but allowed mining to continue while a lawsuit brought by environmentalists proceeded.
Monday’s ruling sends the case back to the district court level for reconsideration.
It marks the latest in long string of decisions against federal officials going back to the Obama administration for failing to adequately consider climate damages from extracting and burning fossil fuels.
The mine near Roundup is a major employer in central Montana with about 250 workers. Its coal has been exported to countries including South Korea, Japan and the Netherlands, according to court documents.
Interior spokesperson Tyler Cherry said the agency was reviewing the ruling. Signal Peak representatives did not immediately respond to the ruling.