Western Organization of Resource Councils ends coal lawsuit

Judge Gavel

GILLETTE, Wyo. — The Western Organization of Resource Councils dismissed a lawsuit Thursday against the Department of Energy, citing changes the department made to its advisory committee on coal.

The organization stated in a news release that its decision to drop the case followed the dissolvement of the National Coal Council and the formation of a restructure National Advisory Committee on Coal. Democracy Forward and EarthJustice had represented WORC in the case.

“WORC, Democracy Forward, and EarthJustice are encouraged by the fundamental changes being made at DOE, in part as a result of this litigation,” the release said. “By bringing the Trump administration’s DOE to court, WORC, Democracy Forward, and Earthjustice shined light on the blatant disregard for transparency laws.”

The Federal Advisory Committee Act chartered the NCC to facilitate federal agencies’ collection of advice and research from third parties that are “relevant, objective, balanced, and open to the public.”

The release stated that the Trump Administration’s “Energy Dominance” agenda enabled the NCC to advocate for increased use and financial support of coal. WORC, Democracy Forward and EarthJustice sued the Trump Administration in October 2020, saying it violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act by refusing to fully publicize  NCC meetings and records, failing to appoint balanced interests to the NCC, and being improperly influenced by National Coal Council, the release stated.

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The Department of Energy allowed NCC’s charter to expire in November 2021 and announced the creation of the NACC in January 2022.

Powder River Basin Resource Council and WORC Board Member Bob LeResche of Clearmont, Wyoming, said the organization dismissed the lawsuit because they are optimistic the Department of Energy’s changes at least partially solve problems with the NCC.

“Time will tell, but we are thankful that the Department has heeded our complaint that the previous committee was operating too closely in alignment with the coal industry and that DOE has modernized it to reflect current challenges facing coal communities and workers,” he said. “Now the National Coal Council, Inc. needs to update its website to acknowledge that it’s a coal industry association and stop masquerading as a federal advisory committee.”

He said they will pay attention to how the agency builds the new advisory committee and encourage it to represent diverse voices from coal country.

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“The National Coal Council was essentially an industry lobby group grafted onto the federal government, so we are pleased it has been dissolved,” WORC spokesperson Mark Fix said. “We’re encouraged that the Department of Energy appears committed to creating an appropriate advisory committee that includes landowners, taxpayers, and other everyday people who are immediately impacted by our national coal policies.”

He said the committee should prioritize establishing recommendations to ensure responsible reclamation, address climate pollution in coal policy and ensure a transition to clean energy includes job retraining and pension protections for workers.

WORC stated in a 2021 letter to the Department of Energy that the NCC did not include perspectives from parties seeking to address negative impacts of coal extraction and unclear separation between NCC and NCC, Inc., a corporate lobbying entity.

WORC includes eight grassroots organizations in Western states, including the Wyoming family agriculture and conservation organization Powder River Basin Resource Council.

Mary Stroka is the Community Reporter for County 17. She's new to Wyoming and has loved getting to know the area. She covers crime, education, faith, government, and policy for County 17. Feel free to contact her at mary@county17.com with your news tips and ideas.