Appeals court rejects enviro appeal of PRB coal leasing

A three-judge panel at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Dec. 24 rejected an effort by environmental groups to halt U.S. Bureau of Land Management leasing to a unit of Cloud Peak Energy.

In April 2005, Antelope Coal LLC applied at BLM to lease a tract of federal land adjacent to Antelope Coal’s existing mine in the Wyoming Powder River Basin. In March 2010, the BLM issued a Record of Decision (ROD) dividing the land into two tracts (the West Antelope II tracts) and offering them for lease through separate competitive auctions.

WildEarth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the Powder River Basin Resource Council challenged the BLM’s decision to approve the West Antelope II tracts for lease. They argued that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) supporting the ROD was deficient in several respects.

The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, finding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to raise one of their arguments and that their remaining arguments failed on the merits. “We conclude that, while they do have standing, their merits arguments fall short,” said the Dec. 24 appeals court decision. “Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.”

The court noted that one issue the environmental groups tried to raise was whether BLM adequately considered the impact on greenhouse gas emissions of this coal being eventually burned in power plants.

“The BLM discussed five separate alternatives in the FEIS at length, however, and analyzed the environmental impact of each,” the court noted. “The Appellants nevertheless protest that the FEIS did not adequately consider a list of alternative ideas that WildEarth submitted in a single paragraph in response to the FEIS. We sense a bit of sandbagging here. The PRBRC participated in the scoping hearing that preceded the draft EIS and submitted written comments on the draft EIS and WildEarth submitted written comments on the draft EIS that specifically addressed the draft’s discussion of reasonable alternatives. At no point did either WildEarth or the PRBRC mention the list of alternatives WildEarth raised at the last minute. To be sure, the BLM invited written comments on the FEIS…, and it had the opportunity to respond before it issued the ROD. But WildEarth’s final comments did not really respond to the FEIS; instead, they raised new issues.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.