Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Hands Down Landmark Ruling on Public Lands and Climate Change


Caleb Heeringa, caleb.heeringa@sierraclub.org, (206) 378-0114
Brian Willis, brian.willis@sierraclub.org, (202) 253-7486
Jeremy Nichols, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org, (303) 437-7663

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver of expanding two massive coal mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin (PRB). The two mines approved for expansion (the North Antelope Rochelle and the Black Thunder mines) are responsible for roughly a quarter of all of United States’ coal production each year and, over the lifetime of their expansions, they will add two billion tons to the United States’ total coal production.

Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians sued over BLM’s decision to expand the mines, arguing that the additional two billion tons of coal would drastically increase both the amount of coal mined in the U.S. and the amount of carbon emissions emitted by coal burning power plants.

The Tenth Circuit found BLM’s analysis on carbon emissions from the expansion to be glaringly insufficient when considering the uptick in coal production’s impact on energy markets - namely that the uptick would drive down the cost of coal based generation, deter investment in clean energy, and result in increased carbon pollution that causes climate change. Today’s decision will have a dramatic impact on how the BLM and the Department of the Interior assess future land leases for fossil fuels - giving the public a clearer picture of how public land used for extraction by fossil fuel companies will impact the most significant environmental threat facing the world today.

In response, Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, released the following statement:

“The Tenth Circuit Court just secured a major victory for those that care about protecting public lands and our climate. Today’s decision sheds new light on the destructive consequences of leasing our most precious lands to corporate polluters who value their balance sheets more than public health.

“This decision marks a major step in our efforts to hold coal, oil, and gas companies accountable for their reckless contributions to climate change and to force the doting Trump Administration to take our environmental laws seriously.

“Our public lands belong to all Americans -- now and in the future -- and our federal government should manage these lands in a way that reflects that. Climate change is the most pressing environmental issue we face, and this decision recognizes a simple truth: BLM’s choices matter. It can no longer stick its head in the sand and ignore its contribution to the climate problem.”

Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians, released the following statement:

“This decision reflects America’s core values in its protection of public lands, and its progressive innovation. To languish in the past and cling to the dying coal industry, would be to reject our history as ingenious revolutionaries. We should be looking forward, to what is next in the energy industry, not back. The Court indicated today that it does not want to fly in the face of the market, despite the Trump Administration’s incorrect assertion that coal is coming back. Burning coal has consequences, and the Court’s decision today recognizes that our environment is more important than pandering to an obsolete industry.”     


About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.