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US officials release final assessment on Powder River Basin coal tracts

U.S. government officials released a final environmental assessment for coal leasing in the Wright Area of Campbell County, Wyo., in the Powder River Basin.

Responding to a 2017 order from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found errors in the analysis of a "no action" alternative in a previous environmental impact statement, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management made a new assessment available to the public June 3. The court previously determined that the BLM's previous analysis did not properly demonstrate how leasing could affect energy markets and greenhouse gas emissions.

"This environmental assessment resolves those court-identified deficiencies and augments the BLM's previous decision by expanding its discussion of emissions from coal production and combustion and analyzing how leasing the tracts could affect coal prices and coal's share in the energy market," the BLM wrote.

The document examines the environmental impacts of four major coal lease areas where the BLM initially prepared an environmental impact statement and authorized leasing in 2012. Three of those tracts have since been leased and are being mined. The original no-action alternative that BLM produced suggested that mining the tracts would cause "no real-world difference between issuing the Wright Area leases and declining to issue them" given the supply of other available coal.

The areas in question involve Peabody Energy Corp.'s North Antelope Rochelle mine and Arch Coal Inc.'s Black Thunder mine, the two largest coal mines by production in the nation. The four tracts contain more than 1.8 billion tons of minable federal coal reserves, according to an assessment released July 30, 2018.

The appeals court remanded the decision to the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, which ordered the BLM to revise certain documents related to the leases in 2017. The final environmental assessment documents are available on the BLM's website. The new finding of no significant impact concludes that implementing the proposed action will not have a significant environmental impact beyond those already disclosed, is in compliance with the court order and federal laws, and does not constitute a major federal action having a significant effect on the human environment.