While much of our analysis lately has been focused on environmental litigation involving two federal government agencies, the EPA and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, we're now privileged to add a third to our docket. Environmental groups, acting on behalf of affected local residents in rural North Carolina, have sued the Department of Energy over the manifold negative impacts, including global warming emissions, of coal extraction. They allege that the approval of federal subsidies for nine major coal-burning projects-- amounting to one billion dollars combined-- violated the National Environmental Policy Act by faiing to engage in a any sort of environmental analysis.
The subsidies in question stem from a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, authorizing the allocation of tax credits for new coal projects. Plaintiffs contend that while distributing these credits to nine projects, including the expansion of a Duke Energy plant powered by the environmentally-devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining, DOE "failed to categorically exclude the action from NEPA analysis, prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, or prepare an Environmental Assessment." They note that while the Act exempted "certain major federal actions" from NEPA scrutiny and expedited the process for others, Congress did NOT exempt these tax credits from NEPA review.
The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to force NEPA analysis surrounding a long list of the "devastating social and environmental impacts associated with coal's cradle-to-grave lifecycle." These large-scale impacts include "carbon dioxide and other greenhosue gases produced during coal mining, and transport." Regarding the warming-coal connection, a January Charlotte Observer op-ed by two public health experts opposing the Clifside plant expansion-- cited by local resident Roger Leeland Hawkins in one of the plaintiffs' filings-- concludes that:
Finally, global climate change is accelerating much faster than the world’s scientific community had previously predicted.The World Health Organization estimates that climate change is already causing more than 150,000 deaths annually across the globe; most of the dead are children in poorer countries. The America n public will also face increasing health risks from more frequent and severe heat waves, increasingly intense floods, droughts and hurricanes, and rising incidences of pest and waterborne diseases. By emitting over 6 million tons of carbon dioxide annually for the next 50 years, Cliffside would fuel climate change, with its devastating impacts for North Carolina and the world.
Appalachian Voices' aforementioned memorandum of law supporting a preliminary injunction is well worth a read for its searing introduction, It comprises a strong moral indictment of coal's environmental impacts, and of DOE's purported ignorance of its "ethical duty" under NEPA (plaintiffs also note that DOE never even bothered responding to their courtesy notice about its NEPA obligations, prompting the lawsuit).