[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] Pratt, the government owns approximately 60 per cent of the coal reserves in the western United States, but coal from those lands represented only about 3 per cent of the coal mined in the United States.
In 1970, the Interior Department put a moratorium on additional coal leasing while the agency developed its new coal leasing policy. During the development process, the agency prepared and distributed a draft of an environmental impact statement.
Although the draft statement was criticized heavily by various environmental groups and other federal agencies, it was subsequently issued by the agency with what Pratt called "some modifications."
The major change between the first statement and the final one, Pratt said, allowed private groups to decide instead of requiring federal agencies to make that decision.
"While it is outside the scope of our review to consider the respective merits of the two programs, we believe that this amendment constitutes a significant departure from" the earlier what lands were available for easing system and requires detailed public analysis, Pratt said.
Pratt said it also appeared that Interior did not consider the alternative of blocking all additional coal leasing.
Pratt said that alternative should have been considered in detail in the environmental statement since the environmentalists claim that there is already enough coal - 26 billion tons - available under past leases to provide enough of the fuel for the next 121 years.
"In light of these statistics, the threshold question as to whether the proposed policy is even necessary should have been addressed and considered in depth," Pratt said in his written opinion.
"The environmental consequences of any national coal-leasing program cannot be gainsaid and require no elaboration," he added. ". . . The undisputed facts show a clear violation of the letter and the purpose of the National Environmental Protection Act."
The government said President Carter's comments to Congress earlier this year that federal coal lands would be managed in an "environmentally sound manner" made the current court case moot.
Pratt rejected that argument also, saying there was no indication the government would halt its new coal-leasing policy while the administration attempted to set up even newer guidelines.
The suit was brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Northern Plains Resources Council and Powder River Basin Resource Council.