Latest Update October 20, 2021

Pushing Ahead with Lawsuit to Expose Coal Industry Trade Association & Compel Compliance with the Law

This filing advances the challenge to the National Coal Council’s refusal to allow public access to its work during the Trump administration in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. In this filing, WORC demonstrates how the NCC functioned during that period as an opaque channel for official policy advice between the coal industry and the Department of Energy, in violation of the law and to the detriment of people harmed by the extraction, processing, or combustion of coal.

Under the Trump administration, an outside advisory group stacked with coal industry representatives is advocating for policies to increase coal extraction, despite the long-term environmental and public health from that extraction. Known as the National Coal Council, this body has existed since 1984 to recommend American coal production and consumption policies to the Department of Energy.

NCC’s reports in the recent past — before its shift to serve President Trump’s “Energy Dominance”  agenda — had more vigorously examined the coal industry’s carbon capture potential and evaluated ideas for lower-emission operations.

The current NCC has no competing viewpoints and meaningful public participation, developing pro-industry recommendations in complete disregard of the consequences for western ranchers, landowners, and outdoor enthusiasts. Its reports since 2017 suggest that the government seek to eliminate restrictions for coal mining on federal land, subsidize outdated coal plants in the name of “grid resiliency,” garner government sponsorship to research new coal-derived products, and secure generous financial support, tax breaks, and regulation exemptions for coal companies.

These recommendations were prepared by, and in consultation with, coal industry members who have a direct conflict of interest in the contents of the reports because they would financially benefit from the policies proposed.

The NCC has used the imprimatur of the Department of Energy to work exclusively to advance the coal industry’s economic interests, and it has unlawfully kept the American public in the dark along the way.

Travis Annatoyn, Democracy Forward Managing Senior Counsel

Without visibility into the NCC’s current work and the opportunity to provide input, advocacy groups such as the Western Organization of Resource Councils cannot inform the public of the NCC’s deliberations and proposals, and cannot advocate on behalf of its members who farm and ranch on lands on or near coal, oil, and gas deposits. Expansion or deregulation of coal mining will increase the likelihood that farmers and ranchers could see their land and livelihood suffer.

For example, coal extraction activities disturb nearby environs with machinery that emits noise, water, and air pollution, and mining practices (such as “longwall mining”) that can literally split open the earth.

And in an egregious violation of federal transparency law, the Department of Energy’s NCC has a private alter-ego — National Coal Council, Inc. — that purports to provide “administrative assistance” to the federally chartered NCC while withholding records from the public. Though it describes itself as a “separate, non-governmental, non-profit organization,” all of NCC Inc.’s members are appointed members of the current governmental NCC, and, as one court found, there is “no meaningful distinction between the NCC and NCC, Inc.”

We’ve filed suit on behalf of WORC to compel NCC to halt its work until it complies with the Federal Advisory Committee Act’s transparency requirements. We’re working alongside the Western Environmental Law Center, who are local counsel on the case. This lawsuit was filed on October 15 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana.

October 15, 2020

Western Conservation Group Sues Trump Administration Over Secretive Coal Council

February 5, 2021

Democracy Forward Counsel, Aman George, argues in Motion Hearing.

April 6, 2021

We survived the motion to dismiss, judge agrees that NCC, Inc. and the NCC subcommittees may be subject to FACA.

In its ruling, the court concluded that — despite the NCC’s refusal to release relevant records — WORC has plausibly alleged that “NCC, Inc. operates as a federal advisory committee under FACA,” that “DOE does not maintain a passive role in NCC, Inc.’s operation,” and that “the development of [the NCC’s] reports occurs largely behind closed doors in meetings of Council subcommittees.”

Learn More
October 20, 2021

Pushing ahead with lawsuit to compel NCC to comply with the law.

In this filing, WORC demonstrates how the NCC functioned during that period as an opaque channel for official policy advice between the coal industry and the Department of Energy, in violation of the law and to the detriment of people harmed by the extraction, processing, or combustion of coal.

Scheduled - January 11, 2022

Oral Arguments Scheduled

Aman George

Senior Counsel & Legal Policy Director

Challenging unlawful actions and abuses of power related to the environment, healthcare, and good governance.

Read the Bio