Q2 Morning Email Newsletter

Sep 22, 2011 8:23 PM by Angela Douglas

Eastern MT ranchers threaten to sue DEQ

BILLINGS - The state of Montana is facing a potential lawsuit, in regards to coal mining and its affect on eastern Montana water.

"If you don't have water in Montana, you don't have anything," says Yellowstone County Rancher, Ellen Pfister.

A statement that ranchers and farmers in the Treasure State can understand.

It's also a statement that coincides with the goal behind the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

"We try to protect ground water and surface water resources," explains D.E.Q. Director, Richard Opper. "It's part of our mission to protect, sustain, and improve a clean and healthful environment."

But a potential lawsuit against the department claims the D.E.Q. is not doing its job when it comes to monitoring coal mines. The Montana Environmental Information Center and Sierra Club are suing the D.E.Q., on behalf of eastern Montana ranchers, over how it has dealt with documents containing water impact assessments.

"That is when they look at the overall affect that the mine will have on an area in which its located during the proposed time of mining," explains Pfister.

In their letter of intent to sue, the M.E.I.C. and Sierra Club accuses the D.E.Q. of not meeting its mandatory duties to ensure coal mines are not having a harmful affect on water quality outside their permit areas and permitted mine area.

We've got a lot of monitoring wells, we analyze the data, but we don't think that's happening outside the permitted boundary," says Opper. "Mining itself is a disruptive activity. It has impacts to groundwater and surface water where the mining is occurring."

But Pfister is concerned about what may happen in the aftermath of mining.

"The big concern is the quantity and quality of water left in the mining areas," Pfister points out.

The letter of intent was sent to the D.E.Q on Tuesday, but a response has not yet been released by the agency.

"We're hoping that they will improve their performance and their analysis on these documents and improve their follow-up on them," says Pfister.

"If we think that their accusations, that we're dropping the ball, are accurate and we can do a better job, we'll find ways to do a better job," Opper states.

The D.E.Q. has been given 60 days to respond to the letter before the ranchers will sue.

To view the notice of intent to sue, click here.

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