HELENA — Environmental groups on Monday urged the state to hold hearings on the proposed Otter Creek mine in cities where the coal would pass through and residents would be affected by increased train traffic.
Public hearings are scheduled to this week in Broadus, Ashland and Lame Deer to establish the scope of the state's environmental review for the coal mine.
The 17 environmental groups sent a letter to the state Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation requesting additional hearings outside southeastern Montana. Officials from both agencies said Monday there would be no additional hearings.
"DEQ should ensure that all Montanans impacted by this mine have an opportunity to be heard. People who live near the proposed mine site certainly deserve that opportunity, as do those whose lives, livelihoods, health and safety will be at risk as a result of increased rail traffic," the letter reads.
One of the letter's authors, Alexis Bonogofsky of the National Wildlife Federation, said it's not just an issue for southeastern Montana because the coal will be heading west for export.
"Livingston, Missoula, Bozeman and Helena are communities that will see significant increases in rail traffic and accompanying impacts," she said in an email to The Associated Press.
DEQ Director Tracy Stone-Manning said no additional hearings will be scheduled, but she encouraged anybody interested in the coal mine to read Arch Coal Inc.'s application and comment on it by going to the agency's website.
"You don't have to be at a meeting to comment," Stone-Manning said. "Because this request came so deep into the public-scoping process, we're going to stick to our timeline."
DNRC spokesman John Grassy confirmed there would be no additional meetings.
The public-comment period on the scope of the review runs until Feb. 4. The entire environmental impact statement review typically takes between 12 and 15 months, but is dependent upon how much public input there is and what the agency finds along the way, Stone-Manning said.
Montana leased 572 million tons of coal reserves to Arch Coal. in 2010 for $86 million and future royalties. Arch Coal applied for a strip mining permit in August to develop the Otter Creek mine.
An estimated 20 million tons of fuel would be hauled from the mine each year. Much of that coal would be transported to the West Coast for export to Asia.
An application to build the Tongue River Railroad, which would connect the coal fields to the existing rail network, is under review by the Surface Transportation Board. Opponents of that rail line want the federal agency to review the impacts of the railroad beyond Montana to the states it will pass through for export from the West Coast.