Lawsuits seek to stop work at mines in 3 states

From - BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Coal industry representatives say lawsuits against mines in three Western states could have consequences across the U.S. as environmentalists seek changes in how mining is approved on federally owned reserves.
     In civil cases unfolding in Colorado, New Mexico and Montana, the group WildEarth Guardians asserts coal companies benefited from lax oversight by federal regulators.
     The group says the U.S. Department of Interior approved mining plans without enough public involvement, and gave little heed to the pollution caused by digging, shipping and burning coal. The group asked the courts to stop mining until the plans are re-done.
      The cases involve the San Juan coal mine in New Mexico, the Colowyo and Trapper mines in Colorado, and the Spring Creek mine in Montana. Combined, they employed about 1,200 workers and produced 27 million tons of coal last year, according to federal records.
     Attorneys for the federal government denied the environmentalists’ claims and have asked the courts to dismiss the cases. New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians has a lengthy record of litigation against the coal industry. Just in the past five years its attorneys have filed dozens of lawsuits and legal petitions against agencies that regulate mining on federal lands.
      “If WildEarth’s request for relief is granted … the result would be devastating economic harm to coal miners, operators and the entire industry that services coal production,” mining association attorney Stephen Bell wrote in a recent court brief. More