10th Circuit Court of Appeals Hands Down Landmark Ruling on Public Lands and Climate Change
DENVER - The Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today ruled the Bureau of Land Management violated federal law in ignoring the climate implications of approving massive new coal mining in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming.
“This is a major win for climate progress, for our public lands, and for our clean energy future,” said 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.”
WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club filed suit over the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of four new coal leases in the Powder River Basin. The leases were intended to expand the Black Thunder and North Antelope-Rochelle strip mines, the two largest coal mines in the world, which are also owned by two of the world’s largest coal companies—Arch Coal (Black Thunder) and Peabody Energy (North Antelope Rochelle). These two mines collectively produce more than 25% of all coal burned in the U.S.
The Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming already produces 42% of the nation’s coal, making it the largest coal producing region in the nation. Coal from the region is burned in hundreds of power plants in the U.S. and increasingly, is exported abroad to be burned in Asia and Europe.
In total, the leases contained two billion tons of coal. When burned, more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon would be released, equal to the emissions of nearly 1,000 coal-fired power plants.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeals found the Bureau of Land Management failed to properly account for the climate impacts of more coal mining, holding the agency violated federal law. The court ordered the agency to go back and conduct new scrutiny and directed the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming to consider putting a halt to new mining.
“What this ruling says is that climate change matters and the federal government can’t turn its back on the problem,” said Nichols. “It means that President Trump and his cronies in the coal industry can no longer force Americans to shoulder the costs of global warming.”
The ruling comes as President Trump and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, have ordered more federal coal leasing to proceed, notwithstanding the climate implications of unleashing more carbon pollution. Today’s ruling stands to temper their push to use federally owned coal and public lands to support the coal industry.
Today’s decision will also have a dramatic impact on how the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of the Interior assess future land leases for fossil fuels - giving the public a clearer picture of how public land used for extraction by fossil fuel companies will impact the most significant environmental threat facing the world today.