Environmental activists group sues AG over communication with coal company

Earlier this month, a Montana environmental activist group took legal action against the state Department of Justice, alleging a violation of their constitutional right to access information by withholding communications between the department and a Canadian coal mining company.

The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC)has long fought natural resource development in Montana. The group has filed dozens of lawsuits to block the development of variety of projects including mines and power plants. The group was instrumental in the lawsuits that led to the shutdown the Coalstrip power plants units 1 and 2. The units closure that has costs the state millions of dollars in lost tax revenue

The latest lawsuit seeks to compel the DOJ, led by Attorney General Austin Knudsen, to disclose a privilege log and 414 documents for judicial review. These documents pertain to communications between the DOJ and Teck Coal, a Canadian company operating coal mines in British Columbia, which has been identified as a source of selenium pollution in the Elk River, flowing downstream into Lake Koocanusa.

The MEIC’s legal action follows years of negotiations between Montana, Canada, and the Ktunaxa Nation Council to address the pollution issue. Despite setting water quality standards, conflicts arose over regulatory authority and legal challenges ensued, involving the Board of Environmental Review, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and MEIC.

In response to the MEIC’s public records request, the DOJ initially delayed disclosure, citing potential privileged documents. Despite subsequent attempts to narrow the request and financial demands for document retrieval, the DOJ maintained that communications were privileged due to ongoing litigation involving both the department and Teck Coal.

The MEIC contends that the DOJ’s actions violate their right to information under the state constitution and public records laws. DOJ has yet to file its response.

By: Montana Newsroom staff