The Bureau of Land Management recently defended itself against an environmental lawsuit claiming resource management plans for coal tracts failed to account for public health.
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Conservation groups including Earthjustice and the Sierra Club sued the BLM in federal court in October, arguing it failed to comply with a 2018 court order to conduct environmental impact studies for its offices in Miles City, Montana, and Buffalo, Wyoming. The tracts are part of the Powder River Basin, the largest coal-producing region in the US. Over 85% of all federal coal production is produced from the PRB, according to BLM statistics.
In a Jan. 7 filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, the BLM asked the courts to dismiss the suit, arguing that it already satisfied the 2018 order by developing approved Resource Management Plan Amendments in 2019.
The BLM refuted environmentalists' claim that the Trump-era BLM amendments failed to consider no-coal leasing and limited coal leasing alternatives. Regarding the failure to consider a no-coal leasing alternative, the BLM said it wasn't required to do so.
"First and foremost, the Court's prior order did not require BLM to consider a no-leasing alternative—it only required BLM to consider an alternative that 'modified or foreclosed the amount of acreage available for coal development' so as to 'decrease the amount of extractable coal available for leasing, which BLM did," the agency said.
The BLM said it had considered alternatives that would decrease production volumes, as per the court's 2018 order.
"The [Buffalo Field Office] eliminated deeper coal seams and poor quality coal from Alternative B, reducing coal availability by about 33%, which in turn reduced potential production emissions and downstream emissions," the BLM said in its brief.
The case is being heard by the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana Great Falls Division.