Judge rejects federal plans for fossil fuel mining in Powder River Basin
A federal judge on Wednesday night threw out two resource management plans developed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), finding they failed to account for the risk of fossil fuel leasing on public lands in Montana and Wyoming.
The plans, developed during the Trump administration but defended in court by the Biden BLM, outline how much coal can be mined and burned on public lands in parts of the Powder River Basin, which covers parts of southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming. The basin is the source of more than 85 percent of federally-produced coal in the U.S. In 2018, Judge Brian Morris, an Obama appointee, ruled that the BLM must redraw the plans to factor in the risks of climate change.
The BLM, then still under former President Trump, finished a revised estimate in 2020, but was again ordered to redo it because Morris ruled it did not properly consider impacts like methane emissions and potential harms from fossil fuel combustion. On Wednesday, Morris again ruled the BLM had not properly complied with the earlier order to review the plans, and that it had not properly considered alternatives with limited or no new coal leasing in the region.
“The Bureau of Land Management is singularly focused on propping up the dying coal industry at the expense of its legal obligations to consider public health and the climate,” Melissa Hornbein, a senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement. “That a federal judge ordered the Bureau to consider a no-leasing alternative and disclose to the public how many people will be sickened and die as a result of the combustion of federal coal is groundbreaking. The courts recognize the seriousness of the climate crisis and the impacts of fossil-fuel pollution. The BLM must now do likewise.”