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Montana Environmental Information Center v. Montana Department of Environmental Quality

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20058
Nos. 2012-1075, (Mont. Dist. Ct., 03/14/2016)

A Montana court vacated and remanded a water discharge permit that the state's environmental agency issued to a coal mine in southeastern Montana. The agency's decisions are arbitrary and not supported by the law, and when viewed in its totality, the record demonstrates clear errors of judgment with regard to protection of the waters into which the mine discharges. The agency's permit process is integral to protection of Montana's water quality, yet several of the agency's conclusions are not supported by the relevant objective and scientific data in the administrative record. For example, the record shows that portions of the impacted waters are classified as "C-3," but the agency wishes to treat them as ephemeral waters, which require reduced water quality standards. The agency's lack of consideration of the evidence in the administrative record showing that a portion of the waters are not ephemeral shows a clear error of judgment by the agency during the permitting process. This determination that all applicable waters are ephemeral also affects the agency's conclusions regarding the need for determining TMDLs and all standards applicable to the new discharges through new outfalls. In addition, the permit's monitoring requirements are inadequate. The permit does not require that all outfalls be monitored in the same way or on the same schedule. And the language of the permit leaves the permit reader with no firm knowledge regarding what monitoring practices will be applied in any given situation.