WildEarth Guardians

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WildEarth Guardians

Defending public lands from Wyoming pit-mine project

WildEarth Guardians et al. v. BLM
Won, Won on appeal. Currently awaiting court’s decision regarding penalties.
Case No.
Date Filed
October 9, 2015
State, Venue
Wyoming, Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals
Nathaniel Shoaff (Sierra Club), Samantha Ruscavage-Barz
Guardians has successfully argued that leases for two major coal mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, located in the northeast corner of the state, were granted without proper consideration of the consequences. In this case, Guardians argued that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which had initially granted the leases, did not adequately assess the environmental impact of these mines or the “no-action alternative,” which states that issuing the leases would result in higher national carbon dioxide emissions than not issuing them. This, according to Guardians and supported by the court, was in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The suit was initially filed in Wyoming Federal District court and was decided in favor of the federal defendants in August 2015 (Guardians et. al. v. United States Forest Service, 2015 WL 4886082); however, Guardians appealed this ruling in September of 2015, and the case was moved to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, where it was argued in 2016. During that year, Peabody Energy Corporation, which held two of the mining leases, filed for bankruptcy, but the court ruled that this did not preclude consideration of the appeal, as Guardians’ case was focused on the BLM’s decision to renew the leases and not the companies planning to conduct the mining.

The Powder River Basin, a 24,000-square-mile geologic structural basin and topographical drainage, is the single largest coal deposit in the country and provides about 40 percent of the coal consumed in the United States. The basin is the former hunting grounds of the Oglala Lakota tribe and now includes parts of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations in Southern Montana as well as the Thunder Basin National Grassland and Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. The two mines at the center of the case, Black Thunder and North Antelope Rochelle, account for approximately 20 precent of the United States’ annual domestic coal production. These are large surface mines that are located within the Thunder Basin National Grassland, which is an important area for recreation and wildlife habitat. The decision of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of Guardians was handed down in September 2017 and requires the BLM to reassess the process for lease-granting to corporate industries, like mines, operating on federal land. However, the court did not order the new leases revoked, which will lead to approximately 382 million tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions to enter the earth’s atmosphere for the duration of four- to nine-year leases. Guardians is asking the court to allow additional remedies in the case and is awaiting a decision.