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Bill would benefit Crow Tribe and Bull Mountains coal mine, environmental groups concerned

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Posted at 7:05 PM, Jun 02, 2024

A proposed land swap in the Bull Mountains south of Roundup could ultimately prevent the closure of the Signal Peak Mine and may come at the expense of environmental concerns.

The Crow Revenue Act would transfer thousands of acres of mineral rights in the Bull Mountains from the United States to a private trust.

The Crow Tribe would also be involved in some of those transactions and the potential bill would help keep the mine open.

“The Crow Tribe wins as well as the mine stays open,” says Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

Daines is the sponsor of the bill and calls this a win-win deal.

The Crow Revenue Act, a land swap centered on mineral rights in the Bull Mountains has environmental groups and others raising concerns.

“They are trying to avoid having to comply with environmental laws and it's shady at best,” said Anne Hedges, Montana Environmental Policy Center policy and legislative director.

If approved, the bill would transfer 4,530 acres of federal subsurface mineral rights and 940 acres of federal surface interests in Musselshell County to the Hope Family Trust.

In exchange, the Hope Family Trust, which currently owns 4,660 acres of private inholdings and mineral rights on the Crow Reservation would transfer its mineral rights to the Crow Tribe.

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The United States would hold those rights in trust for the benefit of the tribe.

”We are 100% in favor of tribal control of lands inside of reservations,” Hedges said. “They are sovereign nations. They deserve to control that land. We believe that there's nothing wrong with that. That's absolutely up to the tribe.”

The tribe and the trust would enter into a revenue-sharing agreement for any interests developed in the Bull Mountain Tracts.

“It's a complex transaction in order to accommodate the mine's desire to avoid having to comply with the law,” Hedges said.

Hedges and the Montana Environmental Information Center are among the bill's most vocal opponents.

She believes the legislation is an attempt to circumvent a 2023 federal court ruling that ordered the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to conduct an environmental assessment on the proposed expansion of the Signal Peak Mine.

“The ruling in effect would shut the mine down because they can't mine the private land without going through the federal land,” said Commissioner John Ostlund, R-Yellowstone County.

Yellowstone County commissioners support the Crow Revenue Act and agree with Daines that it's a win-win for the economy and the Crow tribe.

“The Crow tribe would get royalties off of that and we would continue to have all those people employed,” Ostlund said.

“We’ve got those important jobs in Roundup that we've got to protect,” said Daines. “These are some of the best jobs, highest paying jobs, best benefits.”

Signal Peak Mine employs more than 250, according to Ostland and Daines, and Hedges asks at what expense.

“It's definitely not a good thing for those landowners who live in the area, who live downstream from where the water is going to be harmed,” Hedges said.

The Crow Tribe, Signal Peak Energy, The Hope Family Trust, the City of Roundup, Big Horn County Commissioners, Yellowstone County Commissioners, and the Montana Association of Oil, Gas, & Coal Counties have written letters of support of the potential bill.