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WildEarth Guardians Releases Plan to End Coal Mining, Safeguard the Climate

New Report Responds to U.S. Interior Department's Call for Reform, Scheduled Hearings in West

With the climate at risk from unchecked carbon emissions, WildEarth Guardians today released a roadmap for the U.S. Department of the Interior to start keeping publicly owned coal in the ground and leading the nation away from fossil fuels. 

“It’s time for the Interior Department to shut it down,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.  “Keeping our coal in the ground is the only way to ensure our country successfully transitions to clean energy and effectively confronts the climate crisis.”

The report comes amid mounting controversy and scandal over the way the Interior Department manages publicly owned coal in the U.S.  In the next two weeks, the agency is slated to conduct a series of hearings in the American West, inviting the public to have an “honest conversation” about modernizing the federal coal program.

Among the issues that Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, has flagged for discussion:  how to make the federal coal program consistent with our climate objectives.

According to WildEarth Guardians’ report, the reasons for keeping coal in the ground are all too clear.  Study after study has found that moving beyond coal is the single most important means of limiting carbon emissions.  Most recently, scientists concluded that to meet modest climate targets, the United States must keep 95% of its recoverable coal reserves in the ground.

The Interior Department oversees nearly a trillion tons of publicly owned coal reserves in the lower 48 United States, the vast majority in the American West.  These reserves are the source of the majority of all coal mined and consumed in the U.S.  In fiscal year 2014 alone, more than 40% of all coal produced in the nation came from publicly owned reserves managed by Interior, with the remainder coming from state and privately owned reserves.

Coal is mined for one reason, to be burned.  And the burning of publicly owned coal produces massive amounts of carbon pollution.  All told, reports indicate that 11% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and 46% of all carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion can be traced back to the mining of publicly owned coal.

In spite of this, the Interior Department continues to lease and condone the mining of more publicly owned coal.  In what may be one of the most significant coal decisions ever made by the Interior Department, the agency proposed in May to make more than 80 billion tons of coal available for leasing and mining just in Montana and Wyoming.  If mined and burned, more than 130 billion tons of carbon dioxide stands to be unleashed.

Interior’s coal decisions threaten to set back the national efforts to reduce carbon, including the Obama Administration’s signature climate initiative, the Clean Power Plan, which was finalized this week.

The new report by WildEarth Guardians lays out five key milestones for safeguarding the climate that need to be adopted by Interior, including:

1) A moratorium on leasing publicly owned coal;

2) Retiring existing coal leases that are not producing;

3) Recovering carbon costs;  

4) Honestly reporting to the American public on the climate impacts of the federal coal program ; and

5) Helping communities dependent on publicly owned coal transition to more sustainable and prosperous economies.

“Any honest conversation around the federal coal program must acknowledge the need to keep it in the ground,” said Nichols.  “And by heeding these five milestones Sally Jewell can ensure companies producing from existing leases will be able to continue mining, jobs and communities will stay intact, our electricity supply will not be disrupted, and carbon emissions linked to publicly owned coal will be meaningfully reduced. 

If these milestones are implemented, the report projects an end to the federal coal program over the next 10-25 years.

“Taken together, the U.S. Interior Department’s federal coal program can no longer continue to condone and facilitate the extraction of more coal and the production of more carbon,” says the report.  “It’s time for Sally Jewell and the Department to chart a deliberate and expeditious path toward ending the program and keeping publicly owned coal in the ground for good.” 


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