Appeals court to hear suit against Interior challenging effects of coal mine leasing

Appeals court to hear suit against Interior challenging effects of coal mine leasing
© Greg Nash
A federal appeals court will hear a case brought by environmentalists suing the federal government over the environmental impacts of its coal-leasing program.
 
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals announced Tuesday it will hear an oral argument in March over the lawsuit, brought by the Western Organization of Resource Councils and Friends of the Earth against Interior Department Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Senate panel sets Pruitt hearing | Colorado joins California with tougher emissions rules | Court sides with Trump on coal leasing program Interior 'disappointed' by billboards protesting uranium drilling in Grand Canyon Court rejects greens’ climate case against federal coal mining MORE.
 
The suit challenges that the federal government is underplaying the impact of mining coal on the land it leases.
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"[The Interior Department] has never seriously accounted to itself or the public regarding the climate-change contributions of a program that singlehandedly accounts for eleven percent of total U.S. carbon emissions," the brief reads.
 
In a response to the request for appeal, the defendant said, "Although the Plaintiffs’ brief, in this case, goes into great detail about the science of global climate change, plaintiffs do not challenge any substantive agency action or allege a failure to carry out."
 
Interior added: "This case, therefore, is like any other in which a plaintiff claims to identify a new environmental impact that the agency must take into account in its decision making."
 
The lawsuit against the Interior Department was initially dismissed by a federal court in 2015.
 
“We are disappointed in the court’s decision but we plan to appeal and continue this effort until the [Bureau of Land Management] BLM agrees to undertake a comprehensive environmental analysis of the entire coal leasing program,” said Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica in a statement at the time. “That is what is required by federal law.”
 
The lawsuit against the Interior Department was initially filed in 2014 in tandem with Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, who feared the BLM hadn’t properly studied the effect of greenhouse gases on leased federal land.
 
Allen said at the time that the BLM’s fees to coal companies did not pay for the environmental harm of the coal that is produced.

“The leasing of coal from federal lands undermines President Obama's climate policy goals,” Allen wrote in a blog on the Huffington Post. “We have no comprehensive understanding of the air pollution and climate impact of the federal coal-leasing program because the Bureau of Land Management has failed to analyze the available data for more than three decades.”

More than 40 percent of the coal mined in the United States is found on federal lands, with the majority produced in the West. The Trump administration has made expanding fossil fuel mining in the U.S. an important initiative and has rolled back Obama-era regulations and moratoriums limiting the leasing of coal on federal lands.