Coal and Uranium Mine Permitting

Regulated Activities

A person must obtain a permit from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) prior to engaging in strip or underground mining operations. The permit must designate all lands the operator reasonably anticipates will be mined during the applicable five-year permit period. Permits may be renewed on each five-year permit anniversary by applying for a renewal to the DEQ, at least 240 but not more than 300 days, prior to the renewal date. In order to renew a permit, the operator must be in compliance with the permit requirements and the reclamation plan. An operator must reclaim and revegetate the land affected by the operation as rapidly, completely and effectively as the most advanced technology will allow, except that underground tunnels or shafts need not be revegetated.

Statute: Montana Strip and Underground Mine Reclamation Act,82-4-201 et seq, MCA
Rules: ARM 17.24.301-1309


Application Requirements

Permit

An entity who wishes to obtain a coal or uranium mine operation permit must complete an application furnished by the DEQ that includes a complete and detailed plan for the mining, reclamation, revegetation and rehabilitation of the land and water that may be affected by the proposed operations.  The application must include information regarding climate, geology, hydrology, neighboring surface waters, vegetation, etc.  For mine areas containing federal coal, an appropriate number of  copies determined in consultation with DEQ of all applications, maps, reports and other information must be submitted. For mine areas not containing federal coal, one copy of all applications, maps, reports and other information must be submitted to the DEQ.  Each applicant for a coal mining permit must also submit, as part of the application, a certificate issued by an insurance company authorized to do business in Montana certifying that the applicant has a public liability insurance policy for the strip or underground mining and reclamation operations for which the permit is sought. Activities within or adjacent to designated sage grouse habitats require consultation with the Montana Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Program. The DEQ Sage Grouse Advisory is also an information resources. Prior to the issuance of a permit for a coal or uranium mining operation, the operator must file with the DEQ a bond payable to the state of Montana in a sum to be determined by the department of not less than $200 for each acre or fraction of an acre of the land affected, with a minimum bond of $10,000.  If federal coal is involved, the bond must also be made payable to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement as Obligee.

Reclamation Plan

The reclamation plan for a coal or uranium mine must set forth in detail the manner in which the applicant intends to comply with provisions regarding grading, backfilling, water control, topsoiling, reclamation and coal conservation, as well as measures to be taken to eliminate damages to landowners and members of the public, their real and personal property, public roads, streams and all other public property from soil erosion, subsidence, landslides, water pollution and hazards dangerous to life and property.  In addition, the plan must list the steps to be taken to comply with applicable air and water quality laws and rules and any applicable health and safety standards.

Statute: 82-4-222, 223 and 231, MCA
Rules: ARM 17.24.302 and 313


Permitting Procedures

The application for a permit or major revision of a permit or reclamation plan must be submitted to the DEQ.  Upon a determination that the application is administratively complete, The applicant shall publish a public notice of application in an area newspaper and DEQ must notify various local governments, planning agencies, sewage and water treatment authorities, and water companies in the area of the proposed mining.  Persons interested in the proposed mining, or any officer of a federal, state or local government agency may file written objections to the application within 30 days of the applicant public notice or receipt of DEQ's notice.  If written objections are filed and an objector requests an informal conference, the DEQ must hold an informal conference in the area of the proposed mining and notify all parties of the conference.

The DEQ must notify the applicant in writing within 120 days after receipt of the complete application whether the plan is acceptable.  If the application is not acceptable, DEQ must indicate the reasons why it is not. The applicant may then revise the application.  The DEQ then has another 120 days to render its decision concerning acceptability.

An acceptable application triggers public notice of the proposal. A landowner, operator or any person adversely affected by DEQ's decision may file written objections and/or by written notice, request an informal conference.  The conference must be held within 20 days of the request.  The department must issue its decision within 10 days of the conference.

Statute: 82-4-231, MCA
Rules: ARM 17.24.401-404


Permit Denial

The permit for coal and uranium mining operations may be denied for numerous reasons, including, but not limited to: an inadequate reclamation plan; adverse reclamation possibilities; exceptional topographic, cultural resources, or scientific characteristics; proposed location on a significant alluvial valley floor; critical biological productivity, or ecological fragility, the threat of a public hazard, or designation of the land as unsuitable for mining.

Statute: 82-4-227 and 228, MCA
Rules: ARM 17.24.1131-1148