Monday, September 18, 2017

Feds on Notice as Court Smacks Down Climate Review for Coal

Coal mining on public tracts in the Powder River Basin. (Credit: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
A major court decision dressing down the federal government for "irrational" consideration of the climate impacts of coal leasing stands to reverberate throughout the Trump administration.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled that the Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately consider the greenhouse gas emissions of four large coal leases in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.

A three-judge panel rejected BLM's "perfect substitution" theory, a recurring agency argument that suggests federal coal leasing has no significant impact on the climate because steady U.S. demand means that if coal isn't mined on federal land, the same amount will be mined elsewhere.

The court said the approach "contradicted basic economic principles" and violated the National Environmental Policy Act (Greenwire, Sept. 15).

Now the ruling is expected to feature prominently in other challenges working their way through agencies and the courts.  It provides new ammunition for critics who scrutinize federal environmental reviews for not looking closely enough at climate change.

"This opinion is significant because it means that future federal agencies cannot just rest on these questionable assumptions and will have to do meaningful analysis as to the actual greenhouse gas emission effects from their leasing decisions," said Jayni Hein, policy director at New York University School of Law's Institute for Policy Integrity.  "They can't just conclude that there's no net effect."

The decision also puts BLM on notice.  In the near term the agency must revise its 2010 environmental impact statement for the Wright Area leases at issue.  More broadly, the court's rebuke is expected to spur the agency to, at the very least, show its work more clearly in other analyses.

"The tools are there, and the courts have said, 'You're not going to get away with just sweeping all these impacts under the rug,'" said WildEarth Guardians attorney Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, who represented environmentalists in the case.  "So I would hope that they would take it seriously and do the analysis.

Read more at Feds on Notice as Court Smacks Down Climate Review for Coal

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