Judge Pares Suit Over Wyoming Coal Mining

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge backed the government in tossing a claim over its decision to decertify some public lands in northeastern Wyoming as a coal-production region more than 20 years ago.

     U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly threw out one claim from the four-count lawsuit filed by Wildearth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club with regard to Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which covers approximately 24,000 square miles across northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana.
     After the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s decertification the region in 1990, a leasing-by-application process replaced the the competitive regional leasing process that had been in place.
     “In 2008 alone, 42 percent of all coal produced in the United States came from the Powder River Basin,” according to the 2010 federal complaint. “Since 2000, Powder River Basin coal production has increased nearly 40 percent, from 360 million tons to a record 494 million tons annually.”
     In 2010, the bureau made part of the public lands available for competitive lease sale
     The environmental groups say that the bureau failed to complete a full environmental analysis of the West Antelope II lease sales, failing to consider how burning more than 400 million tons of coal contained in the lease tracts will affect air quality and climate change.
     Such coal-burning would “have the potential to produce approximately 406 millions tons of coal during the lease period, resulting in 666 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions,” according to the groups’ complaint.
     Judge Kollar-Kotelly said each of their four claims represents a challenge to the bureau’s 2010 decision that authorized the leasing of the West Antelope II tracts for prospective coal-mining operations.
     Antelope Coal LLC, the National Mining Association and the State of Wyoming intervened as defendants alongside Ken Salazar, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
     They all sought to toss the environmentalists’ first claim, which they say improperly attacks the bureau’s decision to decertify the Powder River Basin as a coal production region in January 1990.
     Kollar-Kotelly agreed that the claim was time-barred on May 8.
     “Defendants persuasively rejoin that Plaintiffs’ first claim for relief is – at its core – a thinly veiled challenge to the BLM’s 1990 decertification decision, because it was that decision that prescribed the specific leasing process that the BLM would apply to administer its federal coal leasing program in the Powder River Basin from that point forward,” she wrote, using the acronym for the bureau.
     The statute of limitations on that claim ran out in 1996, according to the ruling.

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