It’s a good thing we don’t need the jobs, energy or economic development.
A federal appeals court ruled late last week that the federal government needs to take a closer look at the potential environmental impacts of a proposed 130-mile railroad project that would transport coal through Montana.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) had failed to carry out the required “hard look” at several environmental issues raised by the Tongue River Railroad project as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
STB approved the project — backed by the Tongue River Railroad Co. — in 2007 over the objection of conservation groups, including the Northern Plains Resource Council, and local ranchers.
The railroad in southeastern Montana would haul coal from new mines in the Ashland area to the main line at Miles City. Opponents of coal mining have sought to derail the railroad project as part of a multi-pronged strategy to prevent further coal development, particularly at the proposed Otter Creek mine.
Thursday’s ruling means STB will now have to carry out a new environmental review before the railroad project can proceed.
“It’s basically back to square one” in terms of the environmental analysis, said Patrick Parenteau, a law professor at Vermont Law School who is assisting the challengers. He predicted it would be “two years or more” before STB issues a new decision.
Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Milan Smith wrote that STB failed to take into account the cumulative impact of the railroad when combined with anticipated coalbed methane development and new coal mining at Otter Creek… [Emphasis added]