Judge overturns Trump-era reversal of mining ban in western states
U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill on Feb. 11 overturned a Trump administration action that removed a ban on mining and other development on 4 million ha (10 million acres) across Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
Winmill said the 2017 decision that cancelled a prior Obama-era effort to ban development on those lands failed to fully consider how the move would affect greater sage grouse, a wide-ranging, chicken-sized bird that roams the area in question.
The Associated Press reported that Winmill said the 2017 cancellation was arbitrary and ordered the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to reconsider whether mining should be allowed.
The Idaho-based judge’s ruling does not revive a temporary mining ban imposed under President Obama, which expired while the issue was in dispute. President Joe Biden’s administration will decided if the Obama-era ban will be reinstated.
Lifting the ban under Trump in 2017 allowed the potential for mining and other development, primarily in Idaho and Nevada but also in parts of Montana, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Officials at the time said an analysis showed mining or grazing would not pose a significant threat to the ground-dwelling birds.
Winmill said in his ruling that the analysis was incomplete and ignored prior science on the issue.
Millions of sage grouse once roamed the West. Development, livestock grazing and an invasive grass that encourages wildfires reduced the bird's population to fewer than 500,000.
The Obama administration declined to place the bird under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, citing the mining withdrawal and habitat plans.
National Mining Association spokesperson Conor Bernstein told the Associated Press that the group was disappointed in ruling. He said the Trump administration had correctly decided that blocking mining across such a broad area was unreasonable.
“We still firmly believe that the science and the evidence in front of the agencies led them to the right conclusion,” Bernstein said.
Since Biden took office last month, Interior and other agencies have launched a broad review of Trump programs and policies affecting the environment, wildlife and public health. That includes reconsideration of sweeping land-use plans adopted under the former Republican president that would have relaxed sage grouse protection rules for agriculture, oil and gas and other industries in parts of seven states.
Winmill had blocked those plans in 2019 in a separate lawsuit brought by environmental groups. A review under Trump that was meant to justify the plans was not completed until his final days in office, which prevented them from being put into action.