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States try again to block coal sales that Trump revived

Democratic attorneys general from California, New York, New Mexico and Washington state filed a lawsuit challenging the administration's coal program in U.S. District Court in Montana

July 21, 2020  by The Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. — A coalition of states on July 20 renewed its push to stop the Trump administration from selling coal from public lands after a previous effort to halt the lease sales was dismissed by a federal judge.

Joined by environmentalists and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Democratic attorneys general from California, New York, New Mexico and Washington state filed a lawsuit challenging the administration’s coal program in U.S. District Court in Montana.

They alleged the administration acted illegally when it resumed coal sales that had been halted under Obama due to climate change and other concerns.

Under Trump, the Department of Interior lifted a 2016 moratorium on federal coal sales and concluded they have limited environmental impacts.

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The states behind the July 20 lawsuit said that conclusion was based on a flawed review that ignored hundreds of existing coal leases and pending applications.

“The Trump Administration has repeatedly thrown out the rule book in order to benefit super polluting coal companies. It’s not only immoral — it’s illegal, and we intend to prove it,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

Interior Department officials did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the lawsuit.

Federal coal sales account for about 40% of U.S. coal production, primarily from large strip mines in western states including Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and Utah.

Coal mining companies saw demand for the fuel drop dramatically over the past decade due to competition from natural gas and renewable fuel sources. Trump has sought to prop the industry back up, but that’s done little to slow its downward spiral and the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the decline.

In May, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said the administration had fixed its initial failures to consider the climate change consequences from ending the moratorium. That ruling came after the administration in February released an analysis that said resuming coal sales would mean little difference over time in greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal.

But Morris declined to weigh in regarding the accuracy of the administration’s conclusions, saying only that the analysis was enough to fulfil the administration’s immediate obligations.

The state attorneys general said the administration considered emissions only from a handful of leases and failed to capture the cumulative, long-term impact of the coal program.

They argue the Interior Department analysis also ignored other harms, including damage to wildlife and the land from coal mining, pollution from burning the fuel and the vast quantifies of toxic ash that is generated by coal-burning power plants.