Utah Granted Intervention in Coal Leasing Case

A Utah District Court granted the State of Utah’s motion to intervene in a lawsuit involving a coal lease application in Sanpete County. The lease, which will allow mining in the Flat Canyon tract, an adjacent property to Skyline Mine, was approved by the Bureau of Land Management in 2015 and later challenged by WildEarth Guardians and Grand Canyon Trust.  While the merits of the case have yet to be determined, District Court Judge David Nuffer concluded that Utah’s interest in the outcome was sufficient to grant the state intervener status.

Skyline Mine employs approximately 240 people, and in 2015 contributed approximately $4.75 million in revenue for Utah

The ultimate ruling in the case will have serious implications for the state. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, Skyline Mine employs approximately 240 people, and in 2015 contributed approximately $4.75 million in revenue for Utah. The Flat Canyon Lease would extend the life of the mine and therefore provide a continued source of revenue and jobs. Based on the significance of this information the Court concluded, “Utah’s expected revenue from the Skyline Mine’s expansion into the Flat Canyon lease is an economic interest meriting intervener status”.

In addition to the economic stakes, the Court also acknowledged Utah’s sovereign regulatory responsibility. The State has an independent interest in making sure coal mining is conducted in an environmentally responsible way. State approval, which may include an independent environmental analysis, is therefore a pre-requisite to federal approval of all coal mining leases. Because, as Judge Nuffer explained, the federal and state roles in granting coal leasing permits are “intertwined,” the state must be able to speak for itself in defending this particular lease in Flat Canyon tract.

As an intervener, Utah will have standing to coordinate with the Federal Defendants in making official filings in the case. The Court placed no other limitations on its intervener status.

Dispute Over Utah’s Oil Shale Flowers Heads Back to Court | The Salt Lake Tribune

January 3, 2015

By Brian Maffly

Penstemon 1“The 31-year fight over Utah’s beardtongue, rare wildflowers that grow only near the Uinta Basin’s oil shale outcrops, is far from over despite a new conservation plan that state officials say ensures the plants survival should oil shale mining take off.

This week, the Utah Native Plant Society and other conservation groups formally accused the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of ignoring science and caving to political pressure from oil and gas interests when it withdrew a proposed listing for Graham’s and White River beardtongue, also known as penstemon, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).”

Read full story | The Salt Lake Tribune

Change Coming for Coal Combustion Residuals, Leasing Prices on Public Lands

Two changes in federal environmental management and land regulation are on the horizon.

On December 19, 2014, the EPA signed the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities final rule.

“EPA finalized national regulations to provide a comprehensive set of requirements for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCRs), commonly known as coal ash, from coal-fired power plants . . . The rule establishes technical requirements for CCR landfills and surface impoundments under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the nation’s primary law of regulating solid waste.”

EPA Website, 2014 Final Rule: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities

The rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register. To see the pre-publication version of the final rule, click here.

Next month, federal land managers will release proposed rules to change the pricing structure for oil, natural gas, and coal leases on public lands.

“The proposed rules are the key part of an effort the Interior Department has taken in recent years to better ensure that it is getting fair prices for federal energy resources. Current oil and gas valuation rules are more than two decades old and coal rules are a decade old, Interior said Friday. The coal rules would also apply to American Indian land.”

The Hill | Regulators Want to Change Energy Pricing Rules for Federal Land

For more on this proposed rule, click here.

Grand Canyon Uranium Mining Withdrawal Upheld

Grand Canyon

Prescott, Arizona

On September 30, 2014, the federal district court in Arizona granted summary judgment in favor of the former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. The court ruled that the Secretary’s withdrawal of 1,006,545 acres surrounding Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining in 2012 was in compliance with the law. The Plaintiffs (several mining associations, multiple counties, a private individual, and the Arizona Utah Local Economic Coalition) claimed that the withdrawal violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).

NEPA directs government agencies to prepare Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) analyzing environmental effects any time there is a project proposal or action impacting federal public lands. As part of this process, agencies gather, develop, and carefully consider information and studies concerning potential impacts. The BLM prepared a draft EIS to determine the effects of uranium mining on the Grand Canyon, which was then opened up for public comment. When that process was completed, the Department of the Interior issued a Record of Decision (ROD) formally withdrawing the lands from mining for 20 years.

Plaintiffs argued that the BLM could not withdraw the land because there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the impacts of uranium mining on the Grand Canyon. The size of the proposed withdrawal area and its location as remote forest and rural land meant that relatively little data was available for the EIS analysis. They also argued, and the BLM agreed, that uranium mining presented a low risk of significant environmental harm.

Despite these uncertainties, the district court upheld the withdrawal. It ruled that Secretary Salazar did not abuse his discretion by proceeding cautiously and withdrawing the 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon. The court explained that Department of the Interior could exercise caution “when faced with uncertainty due to a lack of definitive information, and a low risk of significant environmental harm.” The lands will be closed to any new uranium mining claims for 20 years. Current mines may still operate because they are grandfathered into the withdrawal as “preexisting rights.”

The district court’s decision is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.