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WildEarth Guardians v. United States Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement,

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20089
Nos. 13-cv-00518, (D. Colo., 05/08/2015) (Jackson, J.)

A district court held that OSM violated NEPA when it approved the expansion of two Colorado mines. The court agreed with environmental groups that OSM violated NEPA by failing to seek public involvement during the review process and by failing to publish notice of the resulting EAs and FONSIs. OSM also failed to take the requisite "hard look" at the environmental impacts of the proposed expansions before issuing the FONSIs and approving the mining plans. But the court did not vacate the approvals, as urged by the groups. Vacatur makes no sense with regard to one of the mines because the federal coal covered by the revision has already been mined. As for the second mine, vacatur is still timely given that approximately 12 million tons of coal remain to be mined at the revision site. But the benefits of immediate vacatur do not outweigh the potential harms. Invalidating the mine plan revision would likely cause layoffs and serious economic losses, given that the mine employs nearly 250 people at full production. The mine is also the principal source of coal for a nearby power plant. Further, mining in that area has occurred since the mid-1970s, the environmental impacts have been studied over the years, and the state agency considered the environmental impacts from these mining plan revisions. The court therefore deferred entering a vacatur order for a period of 120 days. During that period, OSM must take a hard look at the direct and indirect environmental effects of the mining plan revision and provide public notice and an opportunity for public involvement before reaching its decisions.