Judge Orders Review of New Coal Leases on Public Lands

A federal judge has ruled that the Trump administration did not adequately address the environmental effects of coal mining when it sought to increase mining on public lands.

Judge Brian Morris of the US District Court in Montana, in his decision April 19, did not halt the sale of coal leases, but directed the government to negotiate with states, tribal officials, and environmental groups in order to determine the next steps for coal leasing. Morris said the Interior Department did not adequately study the environmental effects of mining as required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970.

“The court held clearly that the Trump administration needs to rationally consider the consequences of its decision,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine, according to the Associated Press. “Those include dire impacts to clean water, public health, and our climate.”

Harbine represents environmental groups and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, which sued to stop the lease sales.

The New York Times reported that the judge told the plaintiffs and defendants that within the next few months he would make a second legal decision on whether the Obama-era ban on coal leasing for public lands should be reinstated.

More than 40 percent of the coal mined in the US comes from federal land, primarily in western states.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management administers about 300 coal leases in ten states. Eighty-five percent of that coal comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana.

The Obama administration froze new coal mining leases on public lands in 2016. In 2017, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke overturned the coal mining ban in an effort to bolster the slumping coal mining industry.

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