On March 26, 2018, the US District Court, Montana District found that the BLM did not adequately address concerns about climate change, and violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to consider any alternative that would decrease the areas and amount of extractable coal available for leasing, and failing to consider the environmental consequences of the downstream combustion of the coal, oil and gas resources in their 2015 Buffalo Approved Resource Managmetn Plan (ARMP). The Court also ruled that the BLM was arbitrary and capricious for failing to justify the use of a global warming potential (GWP) calculated over a 100-year time horizon, and not acknowledging the evolving science in this area.
The Buffalo Field Office is addressing these deficiencies by preparing a Draft Supplemental EIS that considers climate change and downstream combustion and analyzes alternatives that reduce the amount of coal available for leasing. The Supplemental EIS provides additional analysis for land use planning, specifically for coal, to determine the lands to be made available for coal leasing. To support analysis in the Supplemental EIS and subsequent decision-making, the BLM has conducted new coal screening in accordance with guidelines in 43 CFR 3420.1-4.
DESCRIPTION OF ALTERNATIVES:
The alternatives in the Draft Supplemental EIS focus solely on coal leasing, in response to the court order. The No Action Alternative (Alternative A) represents the coal development potential area identified in the 2015 RMP and brings forward all management decisions that precluded coal development in the 2015 RMP. It relies on the 2001 coal screening decisions used for the 2015 RMP, but applies updated data where appropriate. On the recommendation of the Department of Justice, the BLM updated the coal development forecast to reflect 2018 coal production. The BLM used the 2019 U.S. Energy Information Administration development forecast to project production over the 20-year planning period. The No Action Alternative includes 786,896 acres (73.66 billion tons) of federal coal acceptable for leasing and 12 coal mines. No mine closures or starts are forecasted within the planning area.
The BLM developed the Action Alternative (Alternative B) using the four-step screening process for identifying areas acceptable for further consideration for leasing, found in the regulations at 43 CFR 3420.1-4. Under this process, the BLM:
1. Identified federal lands with coal development potential; only those areas were identified as acceptable for further consideration for leasing.
2. Applied the 20 unsuitability criteria to federal lands with coal development potential; to assess which areas were unsuitable for all or some methods of mining.
3. Evaluated multiple land use conflicts and eliminated additional federal coal deposits from further consideration for leasing to protect other resource values and land uses.
4. Consulted qualified surface owners whose lands overlie federal coal deposits to determine a preference for or against mining the deposits under their land.
The Action Alternative also uses the 2018 coal production baseline and the 2019 U.S. Energy Information Administration development forecast. Based on the current technical and economic potential of coal development, the Action Alternative area was reduced to 455,567 acres (52.2 billion tons) of federal coal acceptable for leasing, which includes the 12 mines, their leases, and sufficient coal reserves for the planning period. No mine closures or starts are forecasted.