- October 3 - A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday rejected a proposal supported by the Bush Administration to ship massive amounts of coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin across South Dakota and Minnesota. The panel ruled that the proposal, which has roots in Vice President Cheney's secretive Energy Task Force, failed to consider the air pollution impacts of burning an additional 100 million tons coal annually at a new wave of power plants in the Midwest.
"This was a choice between clean air and the coal lobby, and the courts chose clean air, not to mention the rule of law," said Jim Dougherty, an attorney representing the Sierra Club South Dakota Chapter, one of groups to challenge the proposal. "We have to count on the courts because the Bush administration is too close to the coal industry to look out for the health and safety of ordinary people."
The Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern (DM&E) Railroad sought to extend its system to the Powder River Basin coal fields in Wyoming and run coal eastward on trains across South Dakota and Minnesota to supply as many as 50 new power plants in the region. The project would increase the use of coal in the United States by approximately 10% of the current total, according to federal regulators.
The federal Surface Transportation Board, recently approved the rail expansion without considering the health and safety costs of burning coal
on the other end. The Sierra Club, Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient
Economy, the Mayo Clinic, and the Mid States Coalition challenged that approach under the National Environmental Policy Act, arguing that the coal-burning power plants, and the toxic air pollution and greenhouse gases they would generate, would be a direct consequence of the rail project.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concurred, stating, "We believe that it would be irresponsible for the Board to approve a project of this scope without first examining the effects that may occur as a result of the reasonably foreseeable increase in coal consumption." The court also stated that the Board's arguments for not addressing such environmental effects were, "at best, illogical."
The Bush Administration has been a major ally of the coal lobby despite the fact that coal is a major source of toxic air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. To support a new wave of power plants, the Cheney Energy Task Force specifically recommended tapping coal reserves in Wyoming's Powder River Basin and developing a rail system to ship those reserves to the Midwest. The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch are suing to obtain the records from secret meetings the Vice President held with the coal industry, utility companies, and other corporate energy interests.