Judge adds 2nd mining tract to Wyo. coal lawsuit

Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A judge has added a second coal lease to an environmentalist lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service that contests Wyoming coal mining on grounds that include climate change.

The Forest Service argued for the lease to be litigated separately, but U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson granted the request by WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club and the Powder River Basin Resource Council to add the lease to their lawsuit.

Doing so would neither delay the case nor confuse the issues, Johnson wrote soon after holding a hearing on the request Thursday.

"There's no good reason not to," he summed up in his order.

The lawsuit will now contest two coal tracts containing more than a billion tons of coal reserves next to St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp.'s North Antelope Rochelle Mine in the Powder River Basin.

The groups initially sued over the South Porcupine coal tract, which holds 402 million tons of federal coal reserves. In May, Peabody subsidiary BTU Western Resources Inc. successfully bid more than $446 million with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to mine the tract.

The North Porcupine coal tract also will be part of the lawsuit now. BTU Western Resources successfully bid $793 million for the tract's 721 million tons of coal in June.

Much of the coal in the two tracts underlies the Thunder Basin National Grassland, which is overseen by the Forest Service.

The Forest Service approved the leases based on previous BLM studies. The groups allege that the BLM studies were flawed and the Forest Service violated a number of federal environmental laws.

Problems with the BLM analyses, the groups allege, included failure to sufficiently consider how burning the coal would contribute to climate change.

The BLM determined that electric utilities would simply find some other coal source if the Wyoming coal weren't mined. That "strains credulity" because of the size of the North Antelope Rochelle operation, the groups allege.

Powder River Basin mines yield close to 40 percent of the nation's coal production and the surface mine accounts for more than 20 percent of the basin's production, according to the lawsuit.

Three other lawsuits WildEarth Guardians has filed against the BLM to contest Wyoming coal leases are pending before federal judges in Washington, D.C.