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Judge Hears Arguments On Challenge To Trump's Opening Of Coal Leases

The 2017 order by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke that lifted the Obama-era moratorium on federal coal leasing.
Department of the Interior
The 2017 order by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke that lifted the Obama-era moratorium on federal coal leasing.

A federal judge in Great Falls Thursday heard arguments over whether the Trump administration lawfully lifted a ban on coal leasing federal lands.

The Department of the Interior lifted the Obama-era moratorium on federal coal leasing in early 2017, fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to end the so-called war on coal.

Environmental groups including Great Falls-based Citizens for Clean Energy and the Helena-based Montana Environmental Information Center along with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe filed a lawsuit challenging that decision.

Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine argued on behalf of environmental groups at the hearing.

“The facts as we know them show that the mining and burning of federal coal has really devastating climate pollution and other environmental impacts that the federal government didn't even review or consider before making the decision to double down on coal leasing and mining.”

Harbine says the ban was lifted without full consideration of the impact the coal industry has on climate change and pollution, violating the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

The Department of the Interior, along with the National Mining Association and the states of Wyoming and Montana defended the order to lift the moratorium, saying it is not the type of agency action that can be challenged under NEPA.

Thursday's hearing comes just two days after the Trump administration announced a plan to roll back an Obama-era policy designed to protect over half the nation’s waterways from pollution.

The case was heard by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Great Falls who is expected to issue a ruling in the coming months.

Maxine is the All Things Considered host and reporter for MTPR. She got her start at MTPR as a Montana News intern. She has also worked at KUNC in Northern Colorado and for Pacific Standard magazine as an editorial fellow covering wildfire and the environment.
Maxine graduated from the University of Montana with a master's degree in natural resource journalism and has a degree in creative writing from Vassar College. When she’s not behind the microphone you can find Maxine skiing, hiking with her not-so-well-behaved dogs, or lost in a book.
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