Attorney General Becerra Renews Challenge to Trump Administration Decision to Restart Federal Coal Leasing Program
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today led a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) decision to restart the federal coal leasing program based on an inadequate and overly narrow environmental review. As of 2017, the production, transport, and consumption of federal coal accounted for 11 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions and approximately 1.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Particulate matter emissions from the storage and handling of significant quantities of coal is also associated with serious environmental and public health concerns, including elevated risk of asthma, bronchitis, cardio-vascular diseases, and cancer. In today’s filing, the coalition argues that DOI’s review of the federal coal leasing program fails to acknowledge, let alone address, the significant environmental impacts of the program, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Mineral Leasing Act.
“Today, we're taking the Trump Administration to court over its haphazard decision to restart the federal coal leasing program without any consideration of the serious consequences for environmental justice communities and climate change,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The Trump Administration has repeatedly thrown out the rule book in order to benefit super polluting coal companies. It's not only immoral – it's illegal, and we intend to prove it. We’ll keep fighting the Trump Administration's actions that threaten our communities because no one – not even the President – is above the law.”
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages coal leasing on approximately 570 million acres of federal land. The last full environmental review of the federal coal program was completed in 1979, when the federal government’s policy to increase reliance on coal and climate change was not yet fully understood. In 2016, the Obama Administration placed a moratorium on coal leases while it initiated a comprehensive environmental review of the program. In March 2017, the Trump Administration ceased that review and restarted the coal program.
On May 9, 2017, Attorney General Becerra, leading a multistate coalition, filed a lawsuit asserting that DOI’s decision to restart the federal coal program in the absence of adequate environment review violated the NEPA and other statutes. NEPA requires that DOI consider the coal leasing program’s climate change and environmental justice impacts. On April 19, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana found that DOI’s decision to restart the federal coal leasing program without conducting any environmental review under NEPA was unlawful and granted the coalition partial summary judgment.
On February 26, 2020, DOI issued a final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which the coalition argued was inadequate and did not remedy the violation found by the District Court. Shortly after, however, the District Court ruled the DOI had remedied its failure to, at least, initiate environmental review prior to restarting coal leasing, but opened the door to a new challenge on the sufficiency of the review.
In today’s lawsuit, the coalition argues that the final EA and FONSI fail to assess the environmental impacts of the coal leasing program in violation of NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act. Among other deficiencies, the final EA and FONSI:
- Impermissibly restricted the scope of analysis to cover just four federal coal leases issued during a 24-month period despite the broad scope of the coal leasing program;
- Ignored, without explanation, several reasonable alternatives for the federal coal leasing program that BLM previously identified; and
- Failed to consider several potentially significant impacts associated with the federal coal leasing program, including harm to public lands and wildlife, air quality impacts, the disposal of coal ash, impacts to environmental justice communities, and the cumulative climate change impacts.
The coalition also renewed its arguments that DOI failed to ensure that the federal coal leasing program is in the public interest or provides fair market value to the public, as required by the Mineral Leasing Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of New Mexico, New York, and Washington in filing the lawsuit.
A copy of the complaint can be found here.