In response to a complaint filed by WildEarth Guardians, the State of Montana has been directed by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to investigate whether Westmoreland Coal Co. is violating clean water laws at the company’s Rosebud strip mine.
Back in April, Guardians filed what’s called a “citizen complaint” under the U.S. Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act detailing how Westmoreland completely dewatered a stream flowing through the Rosebud mine area and is continuing to violate clean water safeguards.
Under clean water laws, a dewatered stream can’t support any beneficial uses, which is illegal, and under state and federal coal mining laws, companies can’t violate water quality requirements. So, Guardians took action.
The Rosebud mine is a massive strip mine located in the northern Powder River Basin, the nation’s largest coal producing region. The mine fuels the equally massive Colstrip power plant, the second largest coal-fired power plant in the American West.
Although the Colstrip power plant is likely to shut down by 2028, (and even Westmoreland has indicated it intends to shutter the mine by 2029), the company (which is falling deeper into debt and is on the verge of bankruptcy) continues to tear apart the land in Montana and flout its legal obligation to protect the region’s air, water, and more.
In the complaint we filed in April, we laid out the issues, including that Westmoreland completely destroyed an aquifer that once consistently sustained a stream flowing through the Rosebud mine (called East Fork Armells Creek), and that the company routinely violates its water pollution permit.
On the latter issue, Westmoreland’s illegal pollution at Rosebud has been highlighted extensively.
In response to our complaint, state regulators have been ordered to conduct an investigation into the matter. Although there’s been no official finding of a violation yet, the process is, thankfully, moving forward to hold Westmoreland accountable.
Our ultimate aim is to help secure a just transition from fossil fuels in Montana. By exposing these clean water violations and highlighting the true cost of strip mining coal from Rosebud, we’re paving the way for a shift to clean energy and to more prosperous and sustainable economies.