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Interior Department Called on to Safeguard New Mexico, Keep Coal in the Ground

Thousands of Petition Signatures Delivered: Coal Reform Needs to be Driven by Need to Combat Climate Change

Farmington, NM—In remarks today to the U.S. The U.S. Department of the Interior, WildEarth Guardians will be joining native voices, speakers from other public health and environmental groups, and thousands more in calling on the agency to protect communities in the Four Corners region, confront climate change, and end the federal coal program.

“With our climate crisis wreaking havoc on our communities and our economy, and upending our future, the Interior Department needs to get out of the coal business,” said Rebecca Sobel, Climate and Energy Organizer for WildEarth Guardians. “The only way the American public truly gets a fair return is if our coal is kept in the ground.”

At a hearing today in Farmington, WildEarth Guardians will be calling on the U.S. Interior Department and Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, to keep publicly owned coal in the ground. Guardians is actively confronting coal mining throughout the American West. In May, Guardians won a lawsuit against the Interior Department for approving two coal mine expansions in Northwestern Colorado. A similar lawsuit is pending over an expansion of the San Juan Mine in New Mexico.

Guardians will also be delivering more than 6,500 petition signatures to the Interior Department calling on the agency to keep publicly owned coal in the ground.

The Interior Department’s coal program has faced mounting controversy and scandal, particularly as the Obama Administration has sought to curtail carbon pollution. In New Mexico, Interior has rubberstamped more coal mining, allowing the expansion of the San Juan and Four Corners mine and extending the life of the region’s aging, polluting coal-fired power plants.

In 2014, the agency sold a coal lease to Peabody Energy for 25¢ a ton. The lease expanded the company’s El Segundo strip mine in McKinley County.

In response, Interior has acknowledged a need for reform and has embarked upon a series of public “listening sessions,” which conclude today in Farmington.

Guardians has responding to Interior’s call for reform by urging the agency to put climate first. Earlier this month, WildEarth Guardians released a report detailing exactly how the Interior Department can start to keep publicly owned coal in the ground. The report urges Interior to meet five key milestones that will ensure an end to the federal coal program in 10-25 years.

"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 will ensure our country successfully transitions to clean energy and effectively confronts the climate crisis."

The report cites studies reporting that moving beyond coal is the single most important means of limiting carbon emissions. Earlier this year, 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 the coal mined and consumed in the U.S.

In 2014, more than 40% of all coal produced in the nation came from publicly owned reserves managed by Interior. More than 12 million tons of publicly owned coal were mined in New Mexico.

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. are linked to Interior Department coal approvals. The link has been described as a massive "blind spot" of the Obama Administration.

Still, the Interior Department continues to lease and condone the mining of more publicly owned coal. Since 2009, the agency has auctioned off more than 2.2 billion tons of coal.

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 announced earlier this month.


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