Federal Court Decision Turns NEPA on Its Head

WASHINGTON, D.C.Hal Quinn, National Mining Association (NMA) President and CEO, issued the following statement today in response to a federal district court ruling requiring National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review before discontinuing a voluntary programmatic environmental analysis.

“This decision is a sharp departure from precedent on policy matters subject to NEPA. Most notably, it is irreconcilable with a recent, unanimous decision from the D.C. Circuit Court in Western Org. of Resource Councils v. Zinke dismissing claims that the Department of the Interior had an obligation to update its prior programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) for federal coal leasing.

“Following the court’s reasoning, the real action violating NEPA was former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell’s order halting federal coal leasing with the Interior Department leaping first and promising to look later at the consequences of such an unprecedented action. Secretary Zinke’s directive, on the other hand, simply ceased a voluntary and wholly unnecessary review and resumed the faithful implementation of the Federal Coal Leasing Act under which decisions to lease coal are already subject to multiple NEPA reviews before leasing and before mining commences.

“The court’s decision casts considerable uncertainty over federal agencies’ policymaking and promises to inflict greater paralysis into agency policy reviews.”

Background

After rejecting repeated requests by various organizations to halt federal coal leasing, former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell reversed course and issued an order halting federal coal leasing while the Interior Department undertook a voluntary review of the coal leasing program. The reasons supplied for ceasing coal leasing and conducting a voluntary programmatic EIS were the same as those previously rejected earlier in Jewell’s tenure as Interior Secretary. Secretary Jewell referenced a previous halt to federal coal leasing as precedent; however, that action was authorized by Congress and not through executive fiat.

Groups who pushed for the moratorium had also unsuccessfully sought similar relief in federal courts. Most recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Interior Department was under no obligation to conduct a programmatic EIS on the program. The Department completed a programmatic EIS for the current coal leasing program and has continually conducted NEPA reviews for coal leasing on a regional and site-specific basis. Moreover, NEPA reviews are also conducted prior to any mining on a lease when the Department reviews the mine plan submitted by the mine operator under the Federal Coal Leasing Act.

 

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