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Judge reinstates Obama-era coal leasing moratorium on federal lands
GREAT FALLS, MONTANA—A federal judge in Montana District Court ruled today to reinstate a moratorium halting all coal leasing on federal lands until the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) completes a more sufficient environmental analysis.
The original moratorium set by the Obama administration in 2016 was overturned by Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, in 2017. The Biden administration revoked the Zinke order last year, but did not reinstate the moratorium.
“The Tribe has fought and sacrificed to protect our homelands for generations, and our lands and waters mean everything to us. We are thrilled that the court is requiring what we have always asked for: serious consideration of the impacts of the federal coal leasing program on the Tribe and our way of life. We hope that President Biden and Secretary Haaland fulfill their trust obligation to take a hard look at the overall energy program on federal lands and really consider how to make it best serve the Tribe, taxpayers, and the climate,” President Serena Wetherelt of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe said in a statement.
“This is a significant victory for our climate and the communities across the country who are impacted by our continued reliance on this dirty and dangerous fuel, but we cannot stop here,” said Jenny Harbine, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies office. “While this ruling reinstates the moratorium on new coal leasing on public lands, the Biden administration must go further by urgently phasing out the existing coal leases that are destroying our planet. There is no room to continue producing coal in a climate emergency.”
In 2019, Tribal and conservation groups won a court decision requiring an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before lifting the coal moratorium. The BLM’s truncated environmental analysis was woefully inadequate, so the groups went back to court in 2020 to challenge it.
“It’s past time that this misguided action by the Trump administration is overturned,” said Anne Hedges, with the Montana Environmental Information Center. “The coal leasing program on public lands is harmful to wildlife, waterways, our fragile climate, and taxpayers’ pocketbooks. There’s no excuse for how long it has taken to require the administration to follow the law and protect public resources. This administration needs to act quickly and protect the climate from its deeply flawed coal leasing program.”
Last year, the Biden administration chose to maintain the Trump-era policy ending the coal leasing moratorium. In May 2021, Tribal and environmental groups challenged the decision to defend continued coal leasing on public lands.
“To protect our climate, we have to start keeping coal in the ground,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program director. “Today’s ruling is a major step forward in that direction and ensures the Biden administration stays on track to fulfill its promise to end federal fossil fuel leasing.”
“This order marks a big win for our public lands and climate future,” said Taylor McKinnon at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal coal isn’t compatible with preserving a livable climate. The Biden administration must now undertake a full environmental review to bring the federal coal program to an orderly end.”
According to a 2021 study, 90 percent of coal must remain unextracted by 2050 to meet a 1.5 °C target.
Earthjustice represented the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Citizens for Clean Energy, Montana Environmental Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, and Defenders of Wildlife in the case.