Judge: Mining less needs to be studied

Source:  Helena Independent Record, March 27, 2018      By: Mead Gruver, AP

Ruling Finds Effect on Climate Change Must Be Considered

U.S. government officials who engage in regional planning for an area of Wyoming and Montana that supplies 40 percent of the nation’s coal must consider reducing coal mining as a way to fight climate change, a judge has ruled.  

Friday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls applies to the Powder River Basin, where house-sized dump trucks haul loads mined around the clock from open-pit coal mines.  Some of the mines measure more than a mile wide.

Morris rejected the U.S Bureau of Land Management officials’ arguments that climate change could be addressed when they consider whether to allow individual mine expansions.

Morris ordered the government and environmental groups to work together on additional planning for the top U.S. coal producing region.  He declined environmentalists’ request to halt mining…

In September, a ruling by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver cast doubt on a longstanding U.S. government argument that blocking leasing of federal coal reserves wouldn’t affect climate change because the coal could simply be mined elsewhere.

Morris sided with the Bureau of Land Management on another climate-change issue:  Methane emissions from oil and gas wells.  Environmentalists argued unsuccessfully that BLM planning in Wyoming and Montana should have done more to reduce or offset that pollution…

The planning occurred as BLM officials in Miles City and Buffalo updated their regional resource management plans for the first time in decades.  In each case, they considered several alternatives for future coal mining in the Powder River Basin.

In each alternative, BLM officials assumed they would allow identical amounts of land, volume or coal reserves leased, and coal production.  Morris ruled that not considering alternatives that would result in less mining violated the National Environmental Policy Act.