Judge Hands Trump Another Setback, This Time on Coal Leases on Federal Land

Trump Administration

Donald Trump and his administration have lost in court about
40 times
since they began reversing former President Barack Obama’s
environmental policies, according to The
New York Times

A judge on Friday handed Trump yet another loss, this time over
the administration’s efforts to lease coal on federal lands, which the Obama
administration had halted via moratorium in 2016.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana said former Interior
Secretary Ryan Zinke’s implementation of an
executive order issued by Trump
in March 2017 to renew coal leasing was
illegal because Interior Department officials failed to conduct environmental
reviews of the impact the policy shift would have.

Morris in his ruling did not reinstate the Obama-era
moratorium, but is expected to revisit that issue in coming months.

The lawsuit was brought by several
environmental groups
and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

Under the Obama administration, then Interior Sally Jewell
issued Secretarial Order 3338 in January 2016, which blocked new coal leases
until an environmental impact assessment and other reviews were completed by
the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to determine a fair return to the public
for the sale of coal on federal land, the climate change impact from federal
coal leases, and the social and environmental consequences of the program.

The BLM manages 306 active federal coal leases in 10 states,
which account for about 7.4 billion tons of recoverable coal. Over 40% of coal
produced in the U.S. comes from federal land, the judge noted. Most of that comes
from the Powder River Basin shared by Montana and Wyoming.

In February, Interior Department officials announced they
would sell
coal leases on public lands in Utah
, the Associated Press reported. A
statement announcing that sale was titled, “The War on Coal is Over,” which
also was a campaign promise Trump often repeated during his candidacy.

But the judge ruled that Zinke had violated the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to study the
environmental consequences of their policy-making decisions. “The Zinke Order
constituted a major federal action triggering NEPA review,” Morris wrote.

Jenny Harbine, an attorney
for Earthjustice
who argued the case, called the ruling “a victory for
communities whose land, water, and way of life is threatened by new coal mining.”
She added: “It’s time we put their health and safety ahead of coal industry

However, Morris noted that the “Court lacks the authority to
compel Federal Defendants to prepare a PEIS [programmatic environment impact
statement], or supplement to the PEIS, at this time. Plaintiffs’ remaining claims
prove contingent upon Federal Defendants’ initiation of the NEPA process and
subsequent conclusions.”

The next move is up to current Secretary
of Interior David Bernhardt
, a lawyer and former oil lobbyist. Earlier
this week, the Times reported that
the Interior Department’s inspector general already
had opened ethics investigations
into Bernhardt’s conduct, less than a week
after he had been confirmed to his position by the Senate.

Per the Times:

Among the chief complaints have been allegations, revealed
by three separate New York Times investigations, that Mr. Bernhardt used his position to advance a policy pushed by his former lobbying
; that he continued working as a lobbyist after filing legal
paperwork declaring that he had ceased lobbying; and that he intervened to block the release of a scientific report showing
the harmful effects of a chemical pesticide on certain endangered species.

In related news, a different judge delivered
another blow in late March to Trump’s energy policies
by declaring the president’s
attempts to open up the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Northern Atlantic Ocean
to oil and gas drilling. That ruling restored permanent protections put in
place by the Obama administration covering 120 million acres of Arctic waters.

And on Friday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals told the
Environmental Protection Agency it had 90 days to decide whether it would ban
the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to brain damage, the Times reported. The Obama administration
had recommended banning chlorpyrifos at farms across the country, particularly
due to its harmful
effects on farm workers and young children

In one of his first official acts as the head of the EPA in
2017, Scott Pruitt rejected the conclusions of his agency’s own chemical safety
experts and dismissed a petition to ban chlorpyrifos, the newspaper reported. Pruitt resigned
due to several scandals
last July. He went on to seek work consulting for one
of the largest coal companies in the country

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