Democrat AGs Want Courts to Stop President Trump’s Plan to Lease Public Lands for Coal Mining

fossil fuels
AP/Matthew Brown

President Donald Trump is trying to keep his promise to help the American coal industry, but Democrats in four states hope to thwart that effort by filing a lawsuit that claims environmental concerns should halt leases on public land.

Xavier Becerra in California, Hector Balderas in New Mexico, Letitia James in New York, and Bob Ferguson in Washington state filed the lawsuit in federal court on Monday.

The lawsuit calls for an environmental review before any mining could begin, the Hill reported:

The states take issue with the government reviewing four newer coal leases, saying more of the approximately 300 existing leases should have been examined. It also said that the government’s Final Environmental Assessment (EA), issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) this year, did not look at these four leases thoroughly enough.

“[The] Final EA ignores many of the impacts and concerns that warrant consideration in an updated environmental review of the program, such as harm to public lands and wildlife from coal mining, air quality impacts from coal transport and combustion, the disposal of coal ash, which contains hazardous constituents, as well as environmental justice impacts related to such activities,” their lawsuit argues.

“Further, the Final EA’s failure to consider any alternatives other than its so-called ‘no action’ alternative or the proposed action … violates NEPA’s mandate to consider a reasonable range of alternatives and is arbitrary and without basis in fact,” it continued, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe also sued Monday, with similar environmental charges.

Trump was first thwarted in 2017 when he tried to end Barack Obama’s ban on new coal leasing on public lands. The Hill reported:

A federal judge ruled last year that the Trump administration did not take the required steps to comply with environmental laws. However, the judge, Brian Morris ruled in May that the federal government had “remedied the violation” after the BLM completed an assessment this year.

But he also said new suits could be filed, leading to Monday’s filings. Becerra said in a statement:

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. 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.

But Department of Interior spokesman Conner Swanson said he believes the Trump administration will prevail in a statement to the Hill:

The Department is confident the court will agree that the analysis by our career experts is lawful and based on the best available science. The Department will continue to implement President Trump’s agenda to create more American jobs, protect the safety of American workers, support domestic energy production and conserve our environment.

Trump has consistently backed the U.S. coal industry and wants it to be part of the country’s energy independence portfolio.

“Coal is and will continue to be a critical part of our nation’s energy portfolio and we are committed to the responsible development of our abundant resources and advancing American energy independence, jobs, and economic growth,” Casey Hammond, acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in February.

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