Federal Court Repeals Obama-Era Prohibition on Coal Leasing

(UnitedHeadlines.com) – In its six-page Feb. 21 ruling, a federal appeals panel overturned an Obama-era moratorium that blocked new coal leasing on federally owned lands.

The Feb. 21 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s three-judge panel overturned Judge Brian Morris’ August 2022 decision in which he reinstated a 2016 moratorium on coal leasing on federal land.

The moratorium for new coal leases on federal land was first enacted in 2016 by Obama administration Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The administration said it was putting the moratorium in place so that it could study wheter the climate impacts of burning coal were accounted for properly in the fees charged to mining companies. Just after Trump administration Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was confirmed to the position by the Senate in 2017, he rescinded that order. Environmental groups sued to challenge his decision.

Though the Biden administration Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland revoked Zinke’s actions, she did not reinstate the moratorium, and the lawsuit continued to play out, leading to the 2022 ruling by Morris. In the ruling, Morris stated the Trump administration did not conduct an adequate environmental impact study. Therefore, Morris ruled that government officials would be required to conduct a new environmental review before coal leasing sales could be held on federal lands.

The 2022 decision was appealed by Wyoming, Montana and the National Mining Association (NMA), who argued that Haaland had not reinstated the moratorium and, therefore, the lawsuit over Zinke’s actions is moot. The three-judge panel, comprising Clinton, Bush, and Trump appointees, agreed.

Environmental groups responded to the ruling by calling for the Biden administration to put the moratorium back in place.

In 2022, private companies leasing federal land mined over 260 million tons of coal, down from 400 million tons in 2014. It is unclear if the ruling would cause the Biden administration to hold new coal leasing sales.

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