Description: Challenge to environmental review for coal mining operations.
WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation & Enforcement
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 04/29/2016 Notice Download Federal defendants filed notice of compliance with court-approved joint remedy. Federal Government Completed Court-Mandated NEPA Review for Mining Plan Modifications for Colorado Coal Mine. On April 29, 2016, the United States Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and its codefendants filed a notice in the federal district court for the District of Colorado that they had conducted new analysis under NEPA for mining plan modifications that increased the amount of coal that would be mined at a Colorado mine. The additional analysis was required by a May 2015 decision of the court, which concluded that the NEPA review for the mining plan modifications should have considered coal combustion impacts. The notice filed with the court in April 2016 indicated that OSMRE had completed an environmental assessment and concluded that mining operations were not expected to have any significant environmental effects. The notice indicated that the mining plan modifications had been approved. 09/10/2015 Joint Proposed Remedy Download Joint proposed remedy approved. Parties Agreed to Remedy for NEPA Violations in Approval of Mining Plan Modification. On September 14, 2015, the federal district court for the District of Colorado approved a joint proposed remedy submitted by the parties in a case in which WildEarth Guardians successfully alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in connection with approvals of mining plan modifications. The remedy allowed Trapper Mining Inc. to continue mining activities subject to certain restrictions while the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) conducted a new NEPA analysis. The analysis “will be prospective and will analyze the reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts of currently proposed and future mining activities …, as well as the past, present, and reasonably foreseeable impacts of any other actions or activities as may be appropriate or required by NEPA.” In its May 2015 decision finding that OSMRE had violated NEPA, the court said that the agency was required to consider the impacts of coal combustion. 07/06/2015 Notice of Appeal Download Notice of appeal filed. The owner of a coal mine appealed a decision by the federal district court for the District of Colorado that held that the United States Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement had violated NEPA when it approved mining plan modifications that authorized the mining of additional coal. The owner of a second coal mine affected by the court’s decision had already appealed. 07/01/2015 Notice Download Notice of correction filed. The district court did not vacate the mining plan modification for the mine because it believed all coal extraction authorized by the modification had already occurred. However, the coal mine owner subsequently filed a Notice of Correction of Statement of Law in the district court, stating that the district court’s decision relied on the mine owner’s misunderstanding that the affirmative defense of mootness applied; the mine owner said that it was withdrawing its mootness defense because it had learned after the court’s decision that additional coal was covered by the mining plan modification. 06/01/2015 Notice of Appeal Download Notice of appeal filed. After a federal district court in Colorado deemed the environmental review for a coal mine expansion insufficient, the coal mine’s owner appealed the court’s decision in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and asked for a stay pending appeal. 05/08/2015 Judgment Download Final judgment entered. Colorado Federal Court Held That Environmental Review for Mining Plan Modifications Must Consider Coal Combustion Impacts. The federal district court for the District of Colorado ruled that the environmental review for two mining plan modifications that changed the location and increased the amount of coal to be mined had not complied with the procedural and substantive requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The court ruled that WildEarth Guardians had organizational standing to bring the action, and that the action was neither moot nor barred by the doctrines of laches or forfeiture. In particular, the court noted that the federal defendants, which included the United States Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) and the Secretary of the Interior, could not invoke laches when OSM had not complied with “its most basic NEPA duty of providing public notice.” On the merits, the court held that OSM’s consideration of direct and indirect air quality impacts was insufficient. The court said that a NEPA review should consider coal combustion impacts as indirect effects of the mining plan modifications and that uncertainty about the timing or rate of the coal combustion or the type of emissions controls that would be in place could not justify ignoring the combustion impacts. The court, however, declined to vacate the two mining plan modifications. At one of the mines, all of the federal coal covered by the modification had already been mined. At the other mine, the court found that vacatur was not warranted given potential hardship it could cause to mine employees and the power plant to which the mine supplied coal, and given that mining had occurred in the area since the 1970s, that its impacts had been studied over the years, that state agencies had considered the impacts of the mining plan modifications, and that OSM had changed its NEPA practices. 02/07/2014 Order Download Plaintiffs' motions to transfer granted. The court—in an opinion by a judge who admitted that he had “a history of granting transfer in environmental administrative cases”—ordered the action to be severed, and transferred the claims involving mining permits in other states to the district courts in those jurisdictions, saying that “[t]he value in having environmental claims litigated where their impacts resonate most deeply eclipses any alleged judicial economy in lumping together in one suit and one venue various locally charged claims.” The court was not swayed by the environmental group’s arguments that their claims protested a “practice or pattern” of not involving the public that should be heard in one action, or that judicial economy, the risk of inconsistent judgments, or prejudice to the plaintiff in the form of inconvenience and increased costs and delay otherwise weighed against severance and transfer. 02/27/2013 Petition Download Petition for review of agency action filed. An environmental group commenced a lawsuit seeking to halt coal mining operations in four Western states because of alleged violations by the Department of Interior (DOI) in approving the mines. In particular, the lawsuit alleged that DOI’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement approved plans for mining on federally owned lands without providing an opportunity for public comment and without fully analyzing their direct and indirect environmental impacts, including impacts associated with coal transport and combustion, pursuant to NEPA. Several of the mines included in the complaint were located in the Powder River Basin, which contains some of the largest deposits in the world of low-sulfur subbituminous coal, which is used for electric power generation. Developers of several planned terminals in the Pacific Northwest are currently seeking federal regulatory approval to export to Asia coal mined from federal land in the basin.
WildEarth Guardians v. United States Office of Surface Mining Reclamation & Enforcement
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 06/17/2016 Judgment Download Order and judgment issued. Tenth Circuit Dismissed Mining Company Appeals of Coal Mine NEPA Decisions. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal by two mining companies of a Colorado district court decision that said the United States Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) had violated NEPA when it approved mining plan modifications for mines owned by the companies. While the appeal was pending, OSM completed new NEPA analyses and reapproved the plans, but the mining companies said that OSM’s reapprovals reset the statute of limitations for third-party challenges and included conditions adversely affecting their lease rights and requiring downstream studies. The Tenth Circuit concluded that the appeal was moot because it addressed only the now-superseded OSM actions and did not fall into the “capable of repetition but evading review” exception to the mootness doctrine. 07/10/2015 Order Download Order issued. The Tenth Circuit ordered the appellants—two coal mine owners—to submit briefs addressing the basis for appellate jurisdiction. 06/29/2015 Order Download Order issued. On June 29, 2015, the Tenth Circuit sua sponte issued an order questioning whether the district court’s judgment was final and suspending briefing. The order noted that the district court had not vacated agency approval of the expansion, and instead had given the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement 120 days to fulfill its review obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), after which the court indicated it would issue an order of vacatur if the agency had not completed its work.