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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  WA Government

Washington joins another suit against Trump administration, challenges coal leasing order

May 9, 2017 Updated Tue., May 9, 2017 at 11:22 p.m.

Rail cars on elevated tracks make their way through downtown Spokane on Nov. 20, 2012. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Rail cars on elevated tracks make their way through downtown Spokane on Nov. 20, 2012. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

OLYMPIA – Washington and three other states want to block the Trump administration’s decision to resume coal mining on federal lands.

The four states filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a recent order by the U.S. Department of Interior that resumes coal leasing on federal lands, which had been suspended until a new environmental impact study could be completed.

Increased coal production on federal lands would mean more rail shipments of coal through the state, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a news release. Many of the trains come through Spokane on their way west.

The total number of trains traveling through the state, and the number that carry coal, are in dispute. A news release from Ferguson’s office put the number at 70 trains per day, with multiple coal trains, based on a 2015 study. BNSF said in a statement Tuesday night that it averages 60 trains per day, but most are a mixture of freight and passengers. Only two or three are coal trains, Courtney Wallace, regional public affairs director for BNSF Railway, said in a news release.

The state also contends that coal mining, transportation and the burning of the coal by power plants and factories produce carbon pollution that contributes to global climate change. The lawsuit lists a wide range of effects of climate change, including reduced snowpack, decreased stream flows, increased chance of wildfires, diminished shellfish harvest from warmer water and increased respiratory problems.

The lawsuit contends Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management “arbitrarily and capriciously” ordered coal leasing to resume on federal lands. New leases had been suspended by Zinke’s predecessor, Sally Jewell, in 2016 based partly on the need to update a 38-year-old environmental analysis as part of a review on whether the federal government was receiving all royalties it was owed from the leases. That analysis wasn’t expected to be completed until 2019.

The day after President Donald Trump issued an executive order to lift any moratorium on coal leasing, Zinke terminated Jewell’s order and the environmental review, and restarted leasing. The states claim that violated the National Environmental Protection Act, and asked the court to stop the leasing.

Joining the lawsuit, which was filed in Great Falls, Montana, are California, New Mexico and New York.

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