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A Federal Appeals Court Sides With Trump Administration on Coal Lease Program

A federal appeals court has sided with President Donald Trump's administration on Tuesday, ruling that the Department of the Interior isn't required to evaluate the climate change impacts of coal leases on federal lands.

Roughly 40 percent of the United States' coal is mined from federal lands. In 2016, the Obama administration halted leases and attempted to conduct a new environmental review for the federal coal leasing program to account for its climate change impacts. But the Trump administration reversed course, halting the review process and issuing new leases in March of 2017.

The lawsuit, brought by the Western Organization of Resource Councils and Friends of the Earth against Secretary Ryan Zinke, argued that, under the National Environmental Policy Act, the department was required to update the federal coal program's environmental impact statement to account for new scientific findings about the role of coal in climate change.

The three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed, arguing that the NEPA only requires a new environmental analysis for an existing program if there is a significant change. "Appellants have failed to identify any specific pending action, apart from the program’s continued existence, that qualifies as a 'major federal action' under [the] NEPA," Judge Harry Edwards wrote in the ruling.