Federal coal mining permit blocked for failing to consider climate change impacts

Arch Coal leasing area, Colorado (Photo: WildEarth Guardians)

Arch Coal leasing area, Colorado (Photo: WildEarth Guardians)

Federal regulators failed to consider the social cost of carbon emissions in approving a proposed coal mine expansion in Colorado, said a U.S. district court judge last week in blocking the permit. The reasoning in this case should be applied to other federal decisions on permitting fossil fuel leasing, production, pipelines, and export terminals. This would help hold the Obama administration accountable for the current contradictions between its climate change rhetoric and its policy on promoting fossil fuel production.

E&E News PM reported on June 27 (by subscription):

Judge blocks mine project, cites lack of climate analysis in NEPA study

A U.S. District Court judge blocked the expansion today of an Arch Coal Inc. coal mine in Colorado, saying regulators did not offer an adequate reason for failing to analyze the social costs of carbon emissions linked to the project.

At issue was Arch’s request for federal coal lease modifications to expand its West Elk underground mine within a roadless area of the Gunnison National Forest.

The Bureau of Land Management signed off on the company’s request in 2012 after receiving the consent of the Forest Service. Three environmental groups — WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club and High Country Conservation Advocates — sued last year.

Judge R. Brooke Jackson in Colorado found regulators failed to give adequate consideration to mining’s greenhouse gas emissions in the National Environmental Policy Act analysis.

Text of Judge Jackson’s ruling

See WildEarth Guardians: Court Decision Protects Colorado Backcountry From Coal Mining, Safeguards Climate

“BLM’s federal coal leasing program has a massive impact on our climate and public health, affecting the waters we use, the air we breathe, and the wild areas we enjoy. For years, BLM has been telling the public that its individual coal leasing decisions–even those approving hundreds of millions of tons of coal–have no impact on our climate. This decision means that just saying there’s no impact doesn’t mean there’s no impact,” said Roger Singer, Senior Organizing Manager with the Sierra Club in Colorado.

From the Colorado Independent:

Judge blocks Colorado coal mine plan, orders feds to evaluate climate impacts

Jackson said the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management must overhaul their analysis of the proposed exploration and mining on 1,700 acres of rolling aspen-covered foothills at the foot of the West Elk Wilderness — land that sustains wild trout, black bears, elk and endangered lynx. …

When those agencies approved the new mining earlier that year, they didn’t come close to complying with federal environmental laws that require full analysis and disclosure of environmental impacts — including the climate impact of any related carbon emissions, Judge Jackson said. …

Especially in the case of Arch Coal’s plans in the Sunset Roadless Area southeast of Paonia. Federal officials failed to do any meaningful analysis of what it means for the climate to mine and subsequently burn 350 million tons of coal — a basic calculation that should be included in the review of any such project, according to Earthjustice attorney Ted Zukoski, who argued the case on behalf of conservation groups.

From Climate Progress (Court Blocks Coal Mine Expansion For Not Counting The Costs Of Carbon Pollution):

The agencies’ decisions would have permitted Arch Coal to expand the West Elk Mine into 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area, the bulldozing of six miles of road, and the construction almost 50 well pads for the venting of methane from the mine expansion. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and the second-most prevalent GHG emitted in the United States after carbon dioxide.

According to the decision, the BLM and Forest Service initially found that the social cost of carbon associated with the expansion could be as high as $984 million, but the agencies arbitrarily scrapped this analysis from the final environmental impact statement. However the associated benefits of the project were still included in the agencies’ analysis. The court called this error “more than a mere flyspeck.” The ruling goes on to acknowledge that agencies are required to analyze the effects of their actions on climate change.

Mary Anne Hitt at Huffington Post: From East to West, Good News for Wilderness and Communities Threatened by Coal Projects

DeSmogBlog: Rejection of Colorado Coal Mine on Global Warming Grounds Could Be Game-Changer

WildEarth Guardians photo essay of proposed Arch Coal mining area in Colorado

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