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Attorney General Bonta Secures Court Decision Imposing Moratorium on Federal Coal Leasing Program

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today secured a decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana overturning the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) decision to restart the federal coal program based on a flawed environmental review. As part of the decision, DOI will be required to complete a new environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing will be reinstated until that review is completed.  

“Today’s decision is a significant victory for our communities, for our planet, and for the rule of law,” said Attorney General Bonta. “For years, the Department of the Interior dragged its feet and refused to conduct a proper environmental review of the federal coal leasing program – despite repeated losses in court. But today's decision is unequivocal: The Interior cannot lift the moratorium on coal leasing until it follows the rules and considers the climate impacts of coal and health consequences for our communities.”

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages coal leasing on approximately 570 million acres of federal land. The last full environmental review of the federal coal program was completed in 1979, when market conditions were dramatically different and climate change was not yet fully understood. In 2016, the Obama Administration placed a moratorium on coal leases while it initiated a comprehensive environmental review of the program. In March 2017, the Trump Administration ceased that review and restarted the coal program.

Today's decision concludes a years-long effort by a California-led coalition of attorneys general to bring DOI into compliance with the law. In 2017, the Attorney General’s Office led a multistate coalition in challenging the decision to restart federal coal leasing, and in April 2019, secured a decision finding that DOI’s decision to restart the leasing program without conducting any environmental review was unlawful. DOI subsequently undertook a review, and a second lawsuit was filed after the coalition determined that review to be inadequate.

Attorney General Bonta is committed to fighting climate change, protecting the environment, and standing up for communities overburdened by pollution. Earlier this month, Attorney General Bonta announced a settlement with BLM prohibiting new oil and gas leasing in Central California while the Bureau conducts a supplemental environmental review.

A copy of the decision is available here.