Wildearth Guardians v. U.S. BLM et al, (D.C. No. 2:13-CV-00042-ABJ) (10th Cir. Court of Appeals) (15 September 2017)

Climate Change Greenhouse gases
Environmental Impact Assessment Cumulative Impacts

In Wildearth Guardians, environmental organizations claimed that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did not adequately address greenhouse gas emissions associated with coal leases.  In its environmental analysis, the BLM had concluded that there was no appreciable difference between the United States’ total carbon dioxide emissions under the proposed leases and the alternative of not developing the leases (the ‘no action alternative’).  The BLM concluded that opting not to issue these coal mine leases was unlikely to “result in a decrease of U.S. CO2 emissions attributable to coal mining and coal-burning power plants in the longer term, because there are multiple other sources  of coal . . . .” Id. at pg. 8.  The Court explained, “[t]he BLM then concluded that, because overall demand for coal was predicted to increase, the effect on the supply of coal of the no action alternative would have no consequential impact on that demand. This long logical leap presumes that either the reduced supply will have no impact on price, or that any increase in price will not make other forms of energy more attractive and decrease coal’s share of the energy mix, even slightly.” Id. at pg. 9.  The Court determined that the “BLM’s assumption that there was no real world difference between issuing [the leases] and declining to issue them because third party sources of coal would perfectly substitute for any volume lost on the open market should the BLM decline to issue the leases was arbitrary and capricious.” Id. at pg. 17.  The Court found that the BLM erroneously made this assumption without providing any data to support it.  The Court remanded the decision to the lower court for further proceedings.