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- Lawsuit calls for new environmental review of the Federal Coal Management Program
Lawsuit calls for new environmental review of the Federal Coal Management Program
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On November 25, 2014, Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils, with support from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to require the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to prepare a supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Federal Coal Management Program. As part of that program, BLM manages more than 309 leases across 10 states. Coal mined under this program is combusted by power plants to produce electricity, contributing about 14 percent of total annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires that federal agencies conduct environmental reviews of every major federal action that significantly affects the quality of the human environment. For federal programs such as the coal leasing program, separate environmental reviews are to be done at both the project and programmatic level. A programmatic environmental review analyzes environmental issues and concerns at the broad policy or program level, and can inform the scope of subsequent decisions and site- or project-specific proposed federal actions. If significant new circumstances or information arise that are relevant to the environmental impacts of a proposed federal action once an environmental impact statement is complete, the agency must prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of the project or program.
The Bureau of Land Management conducted a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Federal Coal Management Program in 1979, in which it identified global warming as an issue with potentially great implications for the coal leasing program, and promised to undertake a supplemental statement “when conditions change sufficiently to require new analyses of [national and interregional] impacts.” The statement was updated in 1985 to account for changes in the coal market and regional environmental conditions, but did not mention global warming or climate change.
In the 35 years since the last Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, the scientific understanding of climate change, including the contribution of the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, has advanced significantly. Since 1985, the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased about 18 percent, and scientists around the globe agree that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, such as the burning of coal, are causing climate change. In the United States, coal is the largest source of electricity generation. It accounted for 32 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2013.
Our complaint charges that the Bureau of Land Management has failed, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, to supplement its 1979 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement to assess the climate change impact of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the Federal Coal Management Program. While the Bureau of Land Management conducts National Environmental Policy Act reviews for individual coal leases, an analysis of an individual lease cannot analyze the effect on climate change of the entire coal leasing program. The complaint requests that the court (1) declare the Bureau of Land Management to be in violation of its duties under the National Environmental Policy Act; (2) order the Bureau of Land Management to supplement the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Federal Coal Management Program, including an analysis of the Program’s cumulative direct and indirect effects on climate change and of alternative policies to reduce such impacts; and (3) enjoin the Bureau of Land Management from considering or issuing new coal leases or lease modifications until a supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement is complete.
 U.S. BLM, Final Environmental Statement: Federal Coal Management Program (Apr. 1979), at 3-9.
 U.S. BLM, Final Environmental Impact Statement Supplement for the Federal Coal Leasing Program (1985), SCI/TD/195/C58/U541/1985/v.1, at 15.
Photo credit: http://greenpeaceblogs.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/GP04EGI-600×288.jpg.