Trump Administration Issued Resounding 'Rebuke,' Environmental Group Says As Judge Halts Coal Mine Expansion

A federal judge blocked the government's attempt to expand a coal mine into Colorado's Gunnison National Forest in a decision hailed by environmentalists as a resounding "rebuke" of the Trump administration.

District Judge R. Brooke Jackson last week blocked the effort to extend the West Elk mining operations into a wildlife habitat, saying the government had not adequately vetted the environmental impact of the project. The federal government had sought to expand the mine in western Colorado by 2,000 acres.

The United States Forest Service had estimated the expansion, if approved, would release almost 12 million tons of methane into the atmosphere.

"It's a rebuke of this administration's pro-coal" agenda, Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director at WildEarth Guardians, told Newsweek. "They rushed it. They rushed their approvals. They cut corners. They did a sloppy job."

In his judgment, Jackson criticized the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for failing to offer a public comment period on its plan.

"New mining would unquestionably involve the release of methane, and potentially impact the perennial streams not considered within the agencies' decisions. Such a proposal would likely make any new NEPA analysis merely perfunctory and not actually informative of any agency decision. Because remand without vacatur or injunction would incentivize agencies to rubber stamp a new approval, rather than take a true and informed hard look, I must enjoin further action until the agency review is completed," Jackson wrote in his decision.

The ruling is the latest setback for the Trump administration, which has attempted to roll back environmental regulations and boost activity among coal and fossil fuel companies.

While the Trump administration has successfully loosened 53 environmental regulations, as The New York Times reported, the moves have faced stark opposition from environmental organizations—which also have won significant victories.

In one high-profile success for environmental groups, a district judge ruled in March that the president did not have the authority to resume drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Earlier that month, another district court judge halted Trump's plans for extraction in Wyoming, saying the administration had not produced enough analyses on how the project would affect climate change.

Environmentalists said Trump's losses in court indicate that he is acting too quickly in overriding the regulatory processes in hopes of bolstering support from the fossil-fuel industry.

"There's no reason not to consider ways to reduce the climate harms of this project unless you're just hell-bent on giving handouts of the industry," Nathaniel Shoaff, a senior attorney for the Sierra Club, told Newsweek. "The Trump administration should be very comfortable losing in court because they've done it a lot."

The Department of Justice and Interior Department did not comment prior to publication.

A truck is loaded with coal at a mine on August 26, 2019, near Cumberland, Kentucky. On Friday, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration's attempt to expand a coal mine in Colorado. Scott Olson/Getty Images)