Judge reinstates ban on coal leasing on federal lands
A federal judge has ordered a more comprehensive environmental review of a 2017 reversal of a coal leasing moratorium which will temporarily once again ban coal leasing on federal lands.
The ruling reinstates a 2016 order by then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell banning coal leasing on federal lands pending further environmental review. That order was scrapped in 2017 by Ryan Zinke, the Trump administration’s first Interior secretary.
Bloomberg reported that Judge Brian Morris of the US District Court for the District of Montana ruled that a Bureau of Land Management environmental assessment of Zinke’s order was insufficient and violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
Interior Department Communications Director Melissa Schwartz said the agency is reviewing Morris’ ruling.
The National Mining Association, which intervened in the case, said it would appeal.
“This is a deeply disappointing decision with energy-driven inflation, energy affordability and energy security top concerns for Americans,” Rich Nolan, NMA president and CEO, said in a statement. “The reimposition of this moratorium couldn’t come at a worse time.”
Federal land leased for coal mining has declined steadily since 1990, from about 730,000 acres under lease to 435,535 acres in 2020, mostly in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana, according to Bureau of Land Management data. The most recent land bureau coal lease sale was scheduled for January 2020 in North Dakota.
Central to the litigation was whether an April 2021 order by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland revoking Zinke’s order mooted the lawsuits against it. Haaland asked Interior agencies to make plans to reverse their policies implementing Zinke’s order that re-started the coal leasing program.
At the time, environmental groups said they believed Haaland’s order reinstated the leasing moratorium. In court proceedings, Interior and the NMA, which intervened in the case, also argued that Haaland’s order mooted the controversy.
But Morris disagreed because he said Haaland’s order didn’t return the coal leasing program to its pre-Zinke status quo because it only mentions the Zinke order by name.