A US federal court has suspended a government plan to open up coal mining on federal lands, claiming that it did not adequately consider the environmental impacts of the proposal.
The ruling is a blow to President Donald Trump’s plans to promote coal mining on federal lands.
In his ruling, US District Judge Brian Morris in Montana stated that the Interior Department did not adequately consider the environmental impact of mining before lifting a moratorium on coal mining on public lands.
In 2017, Trump revoked the ban imposed by his predecessor Barack Obama to remove restrictions on the coal mining industry. Agitated by the policy change, several environmental groups approached the court seeking a reversal of the policy.
The judge observed that the Interior Department avoided an environmental review of the 2017 action by claiming it “a mere policy shift”. However, he found fault with this claim, stating that such a “major federal action” warrants a detailed analysis of its environmental impacts.
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA) mandates the administration to undertake necessary measures and precautions before making decisions on permit applications.
Morris said: “Federal Defendants’ decision not to initiate the NEPA process proves arbitrary and capricious.
“Plaintiffs’ remaining claims prove contingent upon Federal Defendants’ initiation of the NEPA process and subsequent conclusions.”
Furthermore, the judge noted that another ruling will be made in the coming months on whether the Obama-era moratorium on coal mining should be reinstated.
Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine was quoted by The New York Times as saying: “The Interior Department has to go back to the drawing board if they want to continue to sell coal mining leases on public lands – they have to do a better job of legally and scientifically justifying this.”
In a separate move, a district court quashed a permit awarded to Lucky Minerals to carry out gold mining exploration in Emigrant Gulch just north of Yellowstone National Park.
The ruling means Lucky Minerals cannot proceed with its plans to perform exploratory drilling in the area.