Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Judge:  Trump Admin. Must Consider Climate Change in Major Drilling and Mining Lease Plan

The plan covers 15 million acres in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.  The ruling on it is the latest to cite risks of fossil fuels and global warming.

The Powder River Basin, which stretches across Wyoming and Montana, is the nation's largest coal-producing region. (Credit: Kimon Berlin/CC-BY-SA-2.0) Click to Enlarge.
A federal court has ruled against a U.S. Interior Department plan to open more than 15 million acres of public land and mineral rights to fossil fuel extraction, concluding that the government failed to adequately consider how the oil, gas, and coal development would affect the climate and other environmental resources.

The U.S. District Court decision Friday in Montana throws a new roadblock before the Trump administration's goal of expanding and accelerating fossil extraction from federal lands.

The case was filed in 2016 by a coalition of environmental groups over a plan by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management to lease federally owned land in the Powder River Basin of eastern Montana and Wyoming.  While the BLM plan included the possibility of oil and gas development in the area, the Powder River Basin is the country's largest coal producing region.  About 40 percent of all the coal burned in the U.S. comes from the area, and it accounts for about 10 percent of the country's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The plaintiffs contended that the fossil fuel development plans for the vast Miles City, Montana, and Buffalo, Wyoming, federal tracts violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to account fully for the damage the coal, oil, and gas would do to the environment, including the climate.

The area holds about 10.2 billion tons of coal and the possibility of 18,000 new oil and gas wells, the plaintiffs estimated.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris upheld the core assertion by the plaintiffs, although he ruled against other claims.  Morris ordered the BLM "to conduct new coal screening and consider climate change impacts to make a reasoned decision on the amount of recoverable coal made available" in the Miles City and Buffalo areas.

The Montana decision is the latest setback courts have dealt to federal coal mining plans in the Powder River Basin for failing to account for damage to the climate.  In August a federal judge stopped Signal Peak Energy from expanding a 176 million-ton mine in central Montana because the Interior Department did not comprehensively account for climate impacts.  A month later, a federal appeals court told BLM that it had to re-do its assessment of the climate consequences of four huge coal leases because they were economically "irrational."

Read more at Judge:  Trump Admin. Must Consider Climate Change in Major Drilling and Mining Lease Plan

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