US coal operations under legal review

Tuesday, 8 July, 2014

A website called Common Dreams this week brings us reports of pending lawsuits in three US states that could have far-reaching implications for the coal-mining industry, as the U.S. Department of Interior defends charges brought by an environmental group that it has approved coal-mining operations without sufficient public input or environmental assessment.

The suits seek a government shut-down of four specific mining operations until improved complete environmental reviews have taken place, and it’s thought that the fallout could be more far-reaching. A number of further mines have been approved via the same process. As a brief by mining association attorney Stephen Bell puts it, if the suits are successful "...the result would be devastating economic harm to coal miners, operators and the entire industry that services coal production.”

From the report:

Under Federal law, the Interior Department has to approve a “Mining Plan” before a company can mine federal coal reserves… looking at how mining would impact air and water quality both now and in the future.

In the case of four mines in Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico, the Department signed off on Mining Plans that failed "to accurately consider potentially significant direct and indirect environmental impacts in accordance with NEPA," the lawsuits read.

In particular, [WildEarth Guardians, the plaintiff] alleges that the Department failed to give sufficient public notice about environmental analyses, approved plans that employed outdated information and standards, and ignored blatant public health risks. The Trapper mine in Colorado, for example, is currently in violation of the Clean Air Act and has exceeded its water pollution limits by more than 1,000 percent, according to WildEarth.

“Without any public knowledge, Interior has given the green light for coal companies to despoil our air, our water, and our land,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “It’s bad enough that that Interior is approving this kind of dirty energy development in secret, but it’s also doing so without consideration of the environmental implications. The public deserves better.”