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A coal mining operation is pictured in Wyoming

Heavy vehicles stop moving as a timed detonation brings down a wide coal face at the Buckskin Coal Mine on June 13, 2006 in Gillette, Wyoming. (Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Applause as Court Rejects Trump-Era Coal Plan Defended by Biden Administration

"Thankfully the courts are upholding law and science, but it's sad that President Biden is allowing his administration to undermine his promises to protect our health and our climate."

Jake Johnson

Environmentalists celebrated Thursday after a federal court rejected a pair of U.S. Bureau of Land Management coal mining plans that were drawn up during the Trump presidency and defended in legal proceedings by the Biden administration.

"This ruling is a shameful confirmation that the Biden administration has no real interest in defending public lands or the climate," said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program director for WildEarth Guardians. "Thankfully the courts are upholding law and science, but it's sad that President Biden is allowing his administration to undermine his promises to protect our health and our climate."

"It's horrifying that federal lawsuits are required to force the Biden administration to even consider ending fossil fuel leasing."

The 21-page decision by Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana faults the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for failing to adequately consider the public health and climate impacts of its so-called resource management plans (RMPs) for Buffalo, Wyoming and Miles City, Montana.

The RMPs are designed to dictate the amount of publicly owned coal that can be legally burned within the designated areas of Wyoming and Montana. In those two states rests the Powder River Basin, the source of nearly 90% of all federal coal production in the U.S.

The new ruling, which orders BLM to swiftly conduct a new environmental and health review, states that the agency also failed to consider "a reasonable range of alternatives" to burning coal, including the option of not leasing any coal at all.

"This ruling is a forceful, welcome recognition of the dangers of fossil fuel extraction to people and the planet," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's horrifying that federal lawsuits are required to force the Biden administration to even consider ending fossil fuel leasing or accounting for its massive climate damage."

"Climate pollution from federal fossil fuels is torching forests, drying the Colorado River, and pushing endangered species closer to extinction," McKinnon added. "It has to end."

The RMPs in question have been the subject of legal fights for years. In 2018, a federal court instructed the Trump administration to revise its plans in order to sufficiently analyze the potential environmental damage they could cause and weigh alternatives. Two years later, the Trump administration issued revised analyses that still fell short of what's required under federal law, drawing legal action from environmental groups.

The Biden administration nevertheless defended the Trump-era plans in court, a move that climate advocates denounced as a violation of President Joe Biden's vow to move the U.S. away from dirty energy sources.

"Biden promised to hold polluters accountable and accelerate the transition to clean and renewable energy," a coalition of conservation groups said earlier this year after the administration submitted a legal filing in defense of the Trump RMPs.

"While the president calls climate change 'code red for humanity,' the administration's BLM is doubling down on Trump-era policies that prop up a dying coal industry at the expense of American taxpayers," the coalition added. "Why does the Biden administration want to hide the devastating public health impacts of burning federal coal? And if it cares about fighting climate change, why would it refuse to even consider ways to reduce the mining of publicly owned coal?"

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