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WildEarth Guardians v. Office of Surface Mining

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20026
Nos. 14-13, -103, (D. Wyo., 01/21/2016) (Watters, J.)

A district court held that OSM violated NEPA when it approved a mining plan amendment that would expand a coal mine in Montana, and ordered the agency to prepare an updated EA within 240 days. Specifically, the court held that OSM violated NEPA's public participation and notice provisions when it failed to notify the public of a FONSI for the proposal. This failure was not harmless error. Because one of NEPA's purposes is to keep the public informed of environmental decisions, failing to publicize the completed FONSI cannot be harmless error. Similarly, because the environmental groups that are challenging the mining plan modification never had the opportunity to object to the FONSI, they did not waive their right to challenge it. OSM also failed to take the requisite "hard look" at the direct and indirect environmental effects of the proposed expansion. The court therefore deferred vacatur of the mining plan amendment for 240 days, during which time period OSM must correct the NEPA violations and prepare an updated EA, take a hard look at the project's impacts, and comply with the applicable public notice and participation requirements.