Powder River Basin update

WildEarth Guardians v. Salazar (D.D.C. May 8, 2011):

A federal district court in Washington, D.C., dismissed part of a suit brought by several environmental nonprofits concerning the federal government’s decision to put coal mining leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin up for sale. The court dismissed the portion of the lawsuit that alleged that the decision by the BLM in March 2010 to issue two coal leases was inappropriate because the agency never recertified the area as a “coal production region,” holding that this was a challenge to the BLM’s decision to decertify the Powder River Basin in 1990, and that the six-year statute of limitations had passed. The court held that the plaintiffs could petition the BLM to recertify the basin as a coal production region (the plaintiffs have done this, and the BLM rejected their suit; they filed a separate action on April 18, see below, challenging this). The other claims remain, which include allegations that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by, among other things, failing to address climate change impacts once the coal is burned.

On Apr. 4, 2011, the environmental plaintiffs filed suit against the DOI, alleging that it failed to properly plan leasing in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. The lawsuit alleges that that DOI and the BLM violated the Administrative Procedure Act by refusing to manage the area as a “coal producing region.” Such a designation would put more regulatory requirements on the BLM to plan the management of leases instead of managing them under the current competitive leasing process. According to the complaint, the basin produces about 42 percent of the country’s coal. The complaint was filed two weeks after DOI announced four further lease sales for 758 million tons of coal, as well as four records of decision offering for development coal tracts in the basin estimated to produce 1.6 million tons of coal.

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