Court Ruling Secures Unprecedented Scrutiny Over New Mexico Coal Mine

Obama Administration Ordered to Conduct Environmental Review of San Juan Mine or Face Shutdown

Santa Fe, NM—In response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians, a federal court today ordered an intensive environmental review of the San Juan coal mine in northwestern New Mexico.

“This is a win for our climate and for clean energy,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “This review opens the door for an honest assessment of the environmental and health impacts of the San Juan mine and the power plant it fuels and hopefully lead to a plan to keep our coal in the ground.”

Guardians filed suit in 2013 challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior’s approval of an expansion of the San Juan coal mine, which fuels the adjacent San Juan Generating Station.  Interior had approved the expansion with no public notice and with no review of the environmental impacts of expanded mining and coal burning.

After losing similar lawsuits over coal mining approvals in Montana and Colorado, earlier this year, the Interior Department asked the court to grant a “voluntary remand,” effectively a request that the court rule against them and order a new environmental review. 

Today, the court ruled, ordering the Interior Department to complete its environmental review within three years (by September 1, 2019) or face the shutdown of the San Juan mine.

The ruling calls for the federal government to complete an environmental impact statement, a process that will produce a rigorous analysis of the environmental and health impacts of the San Juan mine and the neighboring power plant, invite extensive public involvement, including public hearings, and produce a new decision over whether or not to approve more coal mining.

“The San Juan coal mine has never before faced this level of scrutiny,” said Nichols.  “The American public in New Mexico and beyond is going to get an unprecedented chance to guide our future away from coal and toward clean energy.”

The ruling today also come as the Obama Administration is moving to reform its management of publicly owned coal.  More than 40% of all coal produced in the U.S. comes from publicly owned deposits, mainly in the western U.S.  The mining and consumption of this coal produces 11% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  The reform push comes amid mounting scandal and controversy over the federal coal program.


 

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