Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 20, 2020


Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8308,
Liz Trotter, Earthjustice, (305) 332-5395,

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Order Opening Public Lands to Coal Leasing

GREAT FALLS, Mont.— A coalition of states, conservation organizations and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe launched a new challenge today to the Trump administration’s decision to open millions of acres of public land to new coal leasing and mining.

That 2017 decision ended an Obama-era leasing moratorium that had protected public lands from new coal strip mines, and protected the water, air and climate from coal-mining pollution.

“Quitting the coal habit is essential to our survival, but the Trump administration is defying science and the law by trying to keep subsidizing coal mining on public lands,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This new filing seeks a thorough and honest review of the costs of the federal coal-leasing program, which is decades overdue. The administration’s unreasonably narrow environmental assessment falls laughably short.”

Today’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Great Falls, Montana, challenges the administration’s findings that the federal coal-leasing program does not cause significant environmental harm and asks the court to reinstate the moratorium on new coal leasing.

“While people across the globe are literally fighting for their lives against persistent threats to their air quality, water supplies and sustainable climate, the Trump administration is propping up a dying industry that still inflicts long-lasting harm on communities and the health of our planet,” said Jenny Harbine, an Earthjustice attorney. “We’re asking the court to restore critical protections and hold this administration accountable to the science.”

In April 2019 a federal judge ruled that the decision to end the moratorium broke the law because the administration failed to evaluate the environmental harm.

The Trump administration attempted to remedy that violation by releasing a widely criticized environmental assessment. The assessment looked at only four coal leases that the Bureau of Land Management had already issued and concluded the leases did not cause any significant harm to the environment. The assessment did not consider the bureau’s other coal-leasing activities over the 570-million-acre federal mineral estate, which contains approximately 255 billion tons of mineable coal.

In January 2016 the Obama administration ordered a moratorium on new coal-leasing to allow time to reform the federal program to protect the climate and American taxpayers. In just the first stage of that review, the Interior Department found that coal mining fouls the air, pollutes streams and destroys wildlife habitat on public land. Past estimates found that than one-tenth of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the pollution driving climate change, come from federal coal.

The Interior Department had committed to evaluating options for improving returns to taxpayers before resuming leasing. Internal Interior Department and independent Government Accountability Office audits recently concluded that the current leasing system shortchanges taxpayers while subsidizing coal mining. The Trump administration’s decision to resume federal coal leasing will lock in these subsidies, in addition to environmental harms, before they are fully studied.

The mining and burning of coal from public lands imposes heavy air-quality and public-health costs through emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and mercury. Scientists have called on the United States to stop new coal leasing to help prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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