Interior Department Sued Over Public Land Coal Leases

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Four states are suing the U.S. Department of the Interior, the agency's secretary Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to prevent public lands from being repurposed for coal mining.

Prosecutors on behalf of California, New Mexico, New York and Washington filed federal court documents arguing new coal mining facilities and ventures would accelerate global warming.

The suit also said the federal government would therefore be violating its own statute that says public lands must be used "in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archaeological values," according to Reuters via Yahoo News.

The motion, filed in federal court in Montana on May 9, is an attempt to slow down President Donald Trump's pledge to roll back federal regulations on coal mining and repurpose public lands allocated by the Obama administration.

Former President Barack Obama banned new coal mining leases on public lands in 2016. Zinke formally lifted the ban on March 29. Native American tribes in Montana then filed a suit against the Trump administration, according to Reuters.

Prosecutors also argued new coal mining leases will cause irreversible harm to the environment and would burden public lands with rising costs in relation to the mining, including health care costs and safety infrastructure upgrades.

Zinke has been touring public lands after Trump appointed him to the Interior and visiting national monuments to help decide which ones to earmark for future coal mining expeditions, according to Fox News.

On May 8, Zinke traveled to Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, a 1.3 million acre monument that has become a flashpoint in the talks for repurposing public lands. Bears Ears received national monument status in sweeping regulation by Obama, as the former president seized several million acres of land across the country to name as national monuments in the waning days of his presidency.

Environmentalists and Native Americans praised Obama's actions, while Republican lawmakers, ranchers and oil companies criticized the "midnight monuments" as misrepresentative of the area's best interests and potentially harmful to the longevity of the land.

No president has ever erased national monument status made by his predecessor, although Congress has previously enlarged or reduced the size of national monuments around the country. Should Trump decide to remove the national monument designation from Bears Ears, the matter will likely end up in court.

"President Trump seems to be all about space exploration," said Hank Stevens, president of the Navajo Mountain Chapter, referencing the $19.5 billion spending bill for NASA Trump recently signed. "I say they should go that way and leave us down here alone."

Sources: Reuters via Yahoo News, Reuters, Fox News / Photo credit: John Fowler/Flickr

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