Tim Fox

Tim Fox

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Attorney General Tim Fox on Thursday filed to intervene in a federal district court lawsuit on behalf of the state of Montana, defending the U.S. Department of Interior’s reversal of the Obama Administration’s moratorium on federal coal leases.

The lawsuit filed by Citizens for Clean Energy and the states of California, New Mexico, New York and Washington alleges that the order violated several environmental protection acts. The group is seeking an injunction barring the Interior Department from taking any further actions regarding federal coal leasing until Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke complies with the acts.

The order, signed by Zinke, said the federal coal-leasing program is of critical importance to the economy of the United States, supplying approximately 40 percent of the coal produced in the nation. The moratorium on federal coal leases was enacted last year in January under the Obama administration.

In Zinke’s order, it states, “Given the critical importance of the federal coal leasing program to energy security, job creation and proper conservation stewardship, this order directs efforts to enhance and improve the federal coal leasing program.” The order essentially lifts the moratorium to analyze and consider potential leasing and management reforms to the current federal coal program.

Montana has an estimated 25 percent of the nation’s recoverable coal reserves, according to a statement released Thursday by Fox’s office.

“Sec. Zinke acted within his authority under the law to reverse a discretionary policy of the previous administration, and the lawsuits objecting to the new policy are purely political and ideological in nature,” Fox said. “The state of Montana has a significant stake in the continuation of federal coal leases, and is well-positioned to benefit from increased coal mining on our federal lands.”

Anne Hedges, deputy director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, released a statement Thursday after Fox’s decision to intervene in the case. She said Montanans expect the federal government to protect public lands, the environment and taxpayers.

“Unfortunately, (President) Trump has put the brakes on protecting those interests,” Hedges said. “By siding with the Trump administration, Fox appears to support subsidizing out-of-state coal companies rather than protecting Montanans’ pocketbooks and public lands.”

In the release, Fox argues that Montana has a significant stake in the outcome of the case. He said the state must be granted intervention as only Montana can adequately represent its own unique interests.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at fmonares@dailychronicle.com.

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