Description: Challenge to federal approvals of underground coal mine expansion.
High Country Conservation Advocates v. U.S. Forest Service
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 08/10/2018 Order Download Agencies' decisions affirmed. Colorado Federal Court Upheld New Environmental Impact Statements Related to Coal Mine Expansion. Almost four years after a Colorado federal court vacated federal actions authorizing expansion of an underground coal mine in Colorado because the defendants had failed to adequately consider greenhouse gas impacts, the court rejected challenges to the new supplemental environmental impact reviews conducted by the federal government. The supplemental environmental impact statements (SEISs) addressed an exception to the Colorado Roadless Rule that allowed road construction related to coal mining on previously protected land in the Sunset Roadless Area (the “North Fork Exception”) and lease modifications adding new lands to an existing coal mine. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ contentions that the defendants improperly refused to consider an alternative to the North Fork Exception that protected a particular roadless area and an alternative to the lease modifications requiring methane flaring, which would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The court also rejected arguments that the defendants failed to adequately disclose climate change impacts. First, the court found that the defendants had properly considered and provided the basis for its conclusions regarding the effects on demand for electricity of increased supply of a particular type of coal. Second, the court rejected the contention that the SEIS for the lease modifications should have included an updated social cost of carbon analysis reflecting repeal of the Clean Power Plan. The plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued that an updated SEIS was required since EPA proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan after preparation of the SEIS for the North Fork Exception (on which the SEIS for the lease modifications relied) but prior to the finalization of the lease modifications. 12/15/2017 Complaint Download Complaint filed. Conservation Groups Filed New Lawsuit Challenging Federal Approvals of Coal Mine’s Expansion. On December 15, 2017, five conservation groups filed a complaint in the federal district court for the District of Colorado alleging that the U.S. Forest Service and BLM violated NEPA when they issued approvals authorizing expansion of an underground coal mine in the Sunset Roadless Area in Colorado. In 2014, a Colorado federal court vacated earlier approvals of the mine’s expansion on the ground that the agencies had failed to take a hard look at greenhouse gas impacts. In the December 2017 complaint, the conservation groups said that, “despite having the benefit of a second opportunity to fully account for the mine expansions’ harms, the agencies have, among other errors, again underestimated or obscured the climate pollution impacts of the expansion while improperly boosting the purported economic benefits.” The groups alleged the following NEPA violations related to the agencies’ assessment of greenhouse gas impacts: failure to acknowledge and account for the environmental impacts of the increased demand for coal that the mine’s expansion would induce; failure to disclose climate impacts using scientifically valid and available tools such as the social cost of carbon or to provide an explanation for why such an approach was not appropriate (as required by the 2014 decision); and failure to consider a reasonable alternative aimed at mitigating methane pollution.