Groups take fight against BLM coal lease to appellate court

Posted: Mar 18, 2013

Written by

Manuel Quinones, E&E
Otter Creek

Environmental groups filed an appeal on March 13 of a federal judge's ruling that upheld the Bureau of Land Management's decision to lease more than 4,000 acres for coal mining in Wyoming.

The groups say U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's ruling last year failed to hold BLM accountable for the negative effects of mining in Converse and Campbell counties (E&ENews PM, July 30, 2012).

Kollar-Kotelly said the groups didn't meet the burden for standing on their claims that more coal mining would worsen global warming's impacts. She also said BLM performed adequate reviews of the leases under the National Environmental Policy Act.

But in a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, WildEarth Guardians and other groups said the ruling on their standing was "in error."

"[I]t is clear," they wrote, "under controlling authority that once the WildEarth plaintiffs showed that they had standing to raise their conventional pollutant arguments, they also had standing to raise any issues that could alleviate those harms, including their argument related to inadequate analysis of climate change impacts."

The groups also accused BLM of not paying enough attention to the potential ozone emissions from the so-called West Antelope II leases. They said, "Because BLM did not analyze the effects to air quality from the leases' ozone emissions, BLM failed to ensure that its leasing decision would protect the Powder River Basin's already degraded air quality."

They added, "BLM failed to evaluate in the [final environmental impact statement] whether issuing the leases would comply with the Mineral Leasing Act's requirement that a single entity cannot hold at one time coal leases or permits on an aggregate of more than 75,000 acres in any one State and in no case greater than an aggregate of 150,000 acres in the United States."

The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Powder River Basin Resource Council are also involved. So are the state of Wyoming, Cloud Peak Energy Inc. and the National Mining Association.

National Mining Association spokesman Luke Popovich said the environmental groups have been "spectacularly unsuccessful" in stopping coal lease sales citing climate change impacts. He was responding to another lawsuit against the Office of Surface Mining for its participation in mine approvals (Greenwire, Feb. 28).

Groups are only intensifying their fight against coal mining expansion in Western states, especially with plans to export more of the coal to energy-hungry Asian markets.

Earlier this month, almost 200 members of the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Montana asked the state's Department of Environmental Quality to scrutinize permits for Arch Coal Inc.'s Otter Creek mine near the reservation. Conservation groups are also opposing Tongue River Railroad Co.'s plans to expand area transport capacity.

And today, opponents of new coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest plan a rally at the Oregon Capitol as the deadline nears for a key state agency to issue its decision on one of the proposals.



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