The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver earlier this month ruled that the country’s Bureau of Land Management must reassess its analysis of the climate impacts of expanding two huge coal mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, finding that the existing analysis which led to approval for expansion to be “glaringly insufficient.”
Back in 2010, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved four coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to expand two coal mines — the North Antelope Rochelle and the Black Thunder mines — based on the reasoning that the national demand for coal would be so high that coal would be mined somewhere else regardless even if the BLM declined the expansion request, so they may as well approve the request.
The two mines in question account for approximately 20% of the United States annual domestic coal production. The four coal leases would result in extending the life of the Black Thunder mines by four years, and the North Antelope Rochelle mines by nine years.
According to Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians — which sued the BLM and challenged the decision to approve the four coal leases — expanding the mines would add an extra two billion tonnes of coal which would “drastically increase both the amount of coal mined in the US and the amount of carbon emissions emitted by coal burning power plants.”
Earlier this month, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver published its ruling (PDF):
“Appellants WildEarth Guardians and Sierra Club (Plaintiffs) challenge the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to approve four coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Plaintiffs brought an Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claim arguing that the BLM failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it concluded that issuing the leases would not result in higher national carbon dioxide emissions than would declining to issue them. The district court upheld the leases. We reverse and remand with instructions to the BLM to revise its Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) and Records of Decision (RODs). We do not, however, vacate the resulting leases.”
The ruling will likely have lasting ramifications moving forward. One of the most important findings from the Court’s ruling was that the BLM failed to properly account for the climate impacts of increasing coal mines. Further, the Court ruled:
“The BLM did not point to any information (other than its own unsupported statements) indicating that the national coal deficit of 230 million tons per year incurred under the no action alternative could be easily filled from elsewhere, or at a comparable price. It did not refer to the nation’s stores of coal or the rates at which those stores may be extracted. Nor did the BLM analyze the specific difference in price between PRB coal and other sources; such a price difference would effect substitutability.”
In response, Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians expressed their pleasure with the Court’s decision.
“The Tenth Circuit Court just secured a major victory for those that care about protecting public lands and our climate,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “Today’s decision sheds new light on the destructive consequences of leasing our most precious lands to corporate polluters who value their balance sheets more than public health.
“This decision marks a major step in our efforts to hold coal, oil, and gas companies accountable for their reckless contributions to climate change and to force the doting Trump Administration to take our environmental laws seriously.”
“This is a major win for climate progress, for our public lands, and for our clean energy future,” added Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “It also stands as a major reality check to President Trump and his attempts to use public lands and coal to prop up the dying coal industry at the expense of our climate.”