(The following press release from the Montana Attorney General's Office
was received by e-mail and was reformatted. The sender verified the statement.)
ATTORNEY GENERAL STEVE BULLOCK
STATE OF MONTANA
FOR RELEASE: October 23, 2012
Montana Supreme Court Upholds Land Board Decision to Lease Otter Creek Coal in
HELENA - The Montana Supreme Court today upheld the State Land Board's 2010
decision to issue leases for state lands located in the Otter Creek drainage to
Ark Land Co., a subsidiary of Arch Coal, Inc.
"As a member of the most productive Land Board in history, I have consistently
advocated for responsible development of our natural resources," Attorney
General and Land Board member Steve Bullock said. "This decision preserves
income for the school trust and paves the way for responsible oil, gas and coal
development in Montana."
A number of groups, including the Northern Plains Resource Council, the
National Wildlife Federation, the Montana Environmental Information Center and
the Sierra Club, had filed the appeal with the state's highest court,
contending that the Land Board should have first conducted an environmental
review under the Montana Environmental Policy Act. These groups contended that
the leases were unconstitutional because they violated the Montana
Constitution's guarantee of a right to a clean and healthful environment.
However, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Mike McGrath, Montana's Supreme
Court unanimously upheld a prior district court decision that the law exempting
the Land Board from requiring an environmental review at the time a lease was
approved, was constitutional, provided the lease was subject to permitting
requirements later in the process.
"Because the leases themselves do not allow for any degradation of the
environment, conferring only the exclusive right to apply for State permits,
and because they specifically require full environmental review and full
compliance with applicable State environmental laws, the act of issuing the
leases did not impact or implicate the right to a clean and healthful
environment in Article II, Section 3 of the Montana Constitution," McGrath
The court concluded that the leases granted by the Land Board simply gave the
prospective operator "the opportunity to begin to prepare a complete
application for a mining permit" and that any necessary environmental review
and protections could be put into place at a later permitting stage, "all
before any prospecting or actual development begins."
CONTACT: Judy Beck, 444-5774 or Jennifer McKee, 444-2031
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