Energy & Environment

States, groups sue to block federal coal leasing program

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Four states, as well as a coalition of environmental groups and tribes, are challenging the Trump administration in an attempt to prevent it from moving ahead with leasing federal lands to coal companies. 

Attorneys general from California, New Mexico, New York and Washington state filed the lawsuit in federal court on Monday, arguing that the administration’s environmental review was “inadequate” and “overly narrow.”

The states take issue with the government reviewing four newer coal leases, saying more of the approximately 300 existing leases should have been examined. It also said that the government’s Final Environmental Assessment (EA), issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this year, did not look at these four leases thoroughly enough. 

“[The] Final EA ignores many of the impacts and concerns that warrant consideration in an updated environmental review of the program, such as harm to public lands and wildlife from coal mining, air quality impacts from coal transport and combustion, the disposal of coal ash, which contains hazardous constituents, as well as environmental justice impacts related to such activities,” their lawsuit argues. 

“Further, the Final EA’s failure to consider any alternatives other than its so-called ‘no action’ alternative or the proposed action … violates NEPA’s mandate to consider a reasonable range of alternatives and is arbitrary and without basis in fact,” it continued, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act. 

Environmental groups and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe also sued Monday, similarly alleging that the government didn’t comply with environmental requirements. 

The administration originally tried to end an Obama-era ban on new coal leasing on public lands in 2017. A federal judge ruled last year that the Trump administration did not take the required steps to comply with environmental laws.

However, the judge, Brian Morris ruled in May that the federal government had “remedied the violation” after the BLM completed an assessment this year.

That assessment determined that there would not be significant environmental impacts of resuming coal leases. 

In his decision to throw out the case, Morris wrote that those who wanted to stop the leasing “remain free to file a complaint to challenge the sufficiency” of the assessment, setting the stage for Monday’s lawsuits. 

“We’re taking the Trump Administration to court over its haphazard decision to restart the federal coal leasing program without any consideration of the serious consequences for environmental justice communities and climate change,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a statement. 

“The Trump Administration has repeatedly thrown out the rule book in order to benefit super polluting coal companies. It’s not only immoral — it’s illegal, and we intend to prove it,” he said. 

Interior Department spokesman Conner Swanson criticized the Monday move as a “laughable attempt to keep the baseless lawsuit alive” in a statement to The Hill.

“The Department is confident the court will agree that the analysis by our career experts is lawful and based on the best available science,” Swanson said. “The Department will continue to implement President Trump’s agenda to create more American jobs, protect the safety of American workers, support domestic energy production and conserve our environment.”

The administration has been particularly supportive of coal development even though the industry has been declining. 

“Coal is and will continue to be a critical part of our nation’s energy portfolio and we are committed to the responsible development of our abundant resources and advancing American energy independence, jobs, and economic growth,” said a February statement from acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond on the government assessment. 

In 2019, renewable energy consumption topped coal consumption for the first time in more than 130 years. 

Burning coal also releases more carbon dioxide than burning other fossil fuels such as oil and gas.

Tags Coal mining Donald Trump Environmental justice Lawsuit National Environmental Policy Act Xavier Becerra
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