Utah counties sue over Obama’s coal moratorium

Utah counties sue over Obama’s coal moratorium
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Two Utah counties are suing the Obama administration over its moratorium on new leases to mine coal on federal land.

Kane and Garfield counties and a nonprofit sued the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Utah federal court late Wednesday, calling the moratorium “an act of unwarranted agency overkill.”

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“In enforcing the Moratorium and bypassing substantial and immediate financial returns, the BLM is disregarding its statutory fiduciary duty, as set forth in the Mineral Leasing Act ... to maximize economic recovery for coal mined on federal lands,” the counties state in their complaint.

The dispute, however, could be short-lived. President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE has promised to lift the moratorium and indicated that he could take action on Jan. 20, the day he takes office.

The BLM implemented the moratorium in January in connection with a three-year review of the federal coal program. The review is part of an effort to change pricing and regulations in the program to better reflect the environmental and climate change costs of the coal mining and the market value of the minerals.

In the meantime, the BLM stopped issuing new leases.

At issue in the new lawsuit is the Coal Hollow Mine, run by Alton Coal Development in Kane County on federal land. The company wants to expand the mine but had its application rejected. The counties told the court that jobs will be lost, since the current area in the mine is nearly depleted.

It is the first lawsuit to challenge the BLM’s coal-leasing moratorium. It alleges that the BLM and Interior violated numerous laws in stopping the coal-leasing process, and asks the court to order that the agency continue processing applications.

Interior declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing its policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation, but defended the moratorium.

“Given the serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, large reserves of undeveloped coal already under lease to coal companies, and consistent with the practice during two previous programmatic reviews, Secretary [Sally] Jewell has ordered a pause on new coal leasing on public lands so that those leasing decisions can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” a spokeswoman said.