Dancers on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Photo: Visions Service Adventures

Northern Cheyenne Tribe sues Interior Department over pro-coal policy

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe is taking the Trump administration to task for its pro-coal agenda.

The Montana-based tribe asked Secretary Ryan Zinke to engage in government-to-government consultation regarding coal development on federal lands. But the new leader of the Department of the Interior, who represented the state in Congress, failed to respond, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

"In response to reports that the Trump administration planned to eliminate the moratorium on federal coal leasing, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe transmitted a letter to Secretary Zinke on March 2, 2017, raising concern that the federal coal leasing program could have significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts on the tribe and its members and requesting government- to-government consultation regarding the federal coal leasing program prior to any decision to lift or otherwise modify the moratorium," the 37-page complaint states.

"Despite the trust relationship between the Department of the Interior and the tribe, and fiduciary obligations Secretary Zinke has to the tribe, the tribe did not receive a response from Secretary Zinke or the Department of the Interior prior to the issuance of Secretarial Order 3348 and the requested government-to-government consultation on the federal coal leasing program has not occurred," it continued.

Zinke indeed lifted the moratorium through Secretarial Order 3348, which he signed earlier on Wednesday. He said it was part of Trump administration's efforts to advance America's independence.

"It's certainly a signal that the war on coal is over," Zinke said on a conference call with reporters.

Zinke was asked about the tribe's participation in the lawsuit during the call. Although he didn't provide a direct response, he said coal development can bring jobs and revenue to Indian Country.

“The social cost of not having a job is important too,” Zinke said.

But Chairman Jace Killsback said the tribe "rarely shares in the economic benefits" from coal development in the region. He warned of the environmental risks of lifting the moratorium, which had been imposed by the Obama administration.

"It is alarming and unacceptable for the United States, which has a solemn obligation as the Northern Cheyenne's trustee, to sign up for many decades of harmful coal mining near and around our homeland without first consulting with our nation," Killsback said in a press release.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include environmental and conservation groups.

Read More on the Story:
Montana tribe sues Trump administration for lifting coal moratorium (Reuters 3/29)
Trump Coal Sale Plan Challenged by Environmentalists, Tribe (Bloomberg 3/29)

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