Judge: Agency continues to ignore environment in coalfield plan | Economic news

HELEN, Mont. (AP) – A federal agency has once again failed to consider the potential environmental damage caused by coal mining when establishing land management policies governing a major coal-producing region in Wyoming and Montana, a judge ruled this week.

The ruling rejected resource management plans created in November 2019 by Bureau of Land Management offices in Miles City, Montana, and Buffalo, Wyoming, which would lead management of the Powder River Basin — where the land agency says nearly 44% of all coal produced in the United States comes from – for the next 20 years.

It is the second time, both under President Donald Trump, that Morris has rejected agency resource management plans governing the potential use of just over 20,300 square miles (52,000 km2) of lands in Montana and Wyoming. The Biden administration championed the second plan.

Those 2019 plans also did not consider limiting coal mine expansion or eliminating certain coal deposits from leasing eligibility, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls said in his statement. decision on Wednesday.

Morris has given the lands office up to a year to produce new resource management plans that take into account the public health impacts — both climate and non-climate — of burning recovered fossil fuels on land. federal lands when determining how much, if any, coal should be available for lease.

In the meantime, any new or pending lease of coal, oil or natural gas in the areas must undergo a full environmental review in accordance with the Morris Order and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions. before making decisions.

The Bureau of Land Management and the State of Wyoming argued that the agency’s land use planning process did not allow it to consider a non-rental alternative, according to court records.

“Coal mining represents a potentially permitted use of public land, but BLM is not required to lease public land,” Morris said.

But the coal mines of the region have closed As scientists say, human-caused climate change will continue to make weather more extreme, wildfires more frequent and destructive, and water supplies less reliable.

“The Bureau of Land Management is particularly focused on supporting the dying coal industry at the expense of its legal obligations to consider public health and climate,” said Melissa Hornbein, senior counsel at the Western Environmental Law Center, in a statement. “The fact that a federal judge ordered the Bureau to consider a non-lease alternative and to disclose to the public how many people will get sick and die as a result of burning federal coal is groundbreaking.”

The Bureau of Land Management does not comment on ongoing litigation, spokesman Brian Hires said.

Agency offices updated their resource management plans in 2015, but environmental groups — including the Western Organization of Resource Councils — have challenged the Montana and Wyoming plans in court.

The plans would have made 80 billion tons of federally owned coal available for leasing and would have allowed access to 12,500 square miles (32,375 km2) of land for oil and gas development, according to the National Resource Defense Council.

Environmental groups argued that the 2015 plans failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act in part because they failed to take into account the effect of offering less coal for hire and failed to analyze not the environmental and human consequences of burning coal.

In March 2018, Morris ordered the agency to redo the plansin part to consider reducing the amount of coal available for leasing and to analyze the environmental effects of burning coal, oil and natural gas available for leasing under the plans.

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