Jamie Auslander Quoted in E&E News Article on Federal Coal NEPA Litigation

E&E News quoted Principal Jamie Auslander (Washington DC) in an article, Judge probes NEPA review for coal leasing reboot. On May 13, a federal judge in Montana heard arguments regarding the proper remedy in litigation challenging a 2017 Order by former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke involving federal coal leasing. The Zinke Order, SO 3348, terminated a prior Order by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, which had commenced a voluntary programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to develop possible new policy proposals for federal coal leasing, as well as a concurrent “pause” on federal coal leasing while that PEIS was ongoing.

A coalition of environmental groups and certain states sued the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, arguing that the Zinke Order triggered its own NEPA review. In April 2019, the district court agreed on motions for summary judgment, but deferred a ruling on remedy.  In lieu of an immediate appeal, BLM undertook a NEPA review of the Zinke Order, culminating in an environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact in February 2020.

On remedy briefing, Plaintiffs asked the Court to summarily reject the NEPA analysis and enjoin most federal coal leasing nationwide until the Department of the Interior prepared a new programmatic NEPA review.  At the court hearing on remedy on May 15, 2020, the government explained that it had done more than enough to assess the environmental impacts of the Zinke Order, there exists no legal requirement to undertake the former Jewell Order’s voluntary PEIS, and absent that PEIS there is no basis for a continued “pause” on federal coal leasing.  In sum, the government argued: "The completion of that NEPA analysis completes this case, and this case can now be closed."  Jamie Auslander, representing the National Mining Association, supported the federal government’s position, stating, "The only effect of scrapping the Zinke order would be to reinstate the incomplete PEIS," and adding that the challengers "have gotten all the relief they need."