Bureau of Land Management Pulls out Smoke and Mirrors in Coal Controversy
Claims Largest Coal Producing Region in United States is not a Coal Producing Region
Map of coal-fired power plants fueled by Powder River Basin coal
Powder River Basin,
Wyoming—The U.S. Bureau of Land Management today announced that the largest
coal producing region in the United States is not a coal production region.
“Once again, the U.S. Interior Department and its agencies are running
interference for the fossil fuel industry,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and
Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Instead of living up to
their promises to restore trust and accountability in the wake of the Gulf oil
spill, Interior and the Bureau of Land Management are protecting coal companies
at the expense of American taxpayers.”
The Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana is the
nation’s largest coal producing region. Nearly 500,000,000 tons are strip
mined annually, more than any other region in the nation (see chart showing amount of coal produced by region).
Coal from the Powder River Basin is burned in more than 200 coal-fired power
plants in more than 35 states and is increasingly being shipped overseas to be
burned in Chinese coal-fired power plants.
“Raiding the natural landscapes that make Montana and Wyoming a sportsman’s
destination is a direct threat to our economies,” said Mike Scott, Regional
Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Montana. “This
decision will harm our economy, it will harm our climate, it will harm our land
and it will discourage competition in the market, all so our coal can power
dirty plants in China.
“The effect of this decision is to force taxpayers in the U.S. to effectively
subsidize coal exports to China,” continued Scott.
In response to a petition filed by WildEarth Guardians in November of 2009,
Bureau of Land Management Director, Bob Abbey, upheld a 1990 decision to
“decertify” the Powder River Basin (download the decision here).
The 1990 decision in essence declared the region no longer produced coal.
Director Abbey’s decision today reaffirms this declaration.
“Decertification” has allowed the Bureau of Land Management—the Interior
Department agency that oversees federal coal leasing—to avoid following
standard leasing procedures, allowing coal companies, rather than the federal
government, to design lease boundaries that preclude competition.
A report prepared by WildEarth Guardians in 2009, entitled “UnderMining the
Climate,” found that in the last 20 years, only three lease sales out of 21
have had more than one bidder (see WildEarth Guardians report).
“The coal industry has enough handouts paid for by American taxpayers,” said
Scott. “We already pay for the price of coal-fired power in the illnesses
we suffer that are made worse by coal’s pollution. Asking us to pay more
so coal companies can monopolize mining in the process of damaging the climate
The Bureau of Land Management has not shied away from admitting that the reason
for “decertification” was to accommodate coal companies looking to expand
existing mines in the region.
The unfair federal leasing program has undermined the ability of the Bureau of
Land Management to address global warming impacts. Not only has it
thwarted the ability of the agency to prepare a regional analysis of the global
warming impacts, the “decertification” has blocked the agency from limiting
coal leasing or otherwise adopting measures to address climate
disruption. WildEarth Guardians’ report found that the Powder River Basin
produces 42% of all the coal burned in U.S. coal-fired power plants, releasing
800,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions—more than 13% of the nation’s
“With responsibility over billions of tons of coal, the Bureau of Land
Management can’t just call climate disruption someone else’s problem, yet
Director Abbey’s decision does just that,” said Nichols. “Sadly, the Interior
Department seems bent on shutting the doors to climate solutions.”
Despite the problems with “decertification,” the Bureau of Land Management is
pushing to offer 12 new coal leases in the Powder River Basin (see table of proposed leases). These leases
would collectively mine up to 5.8 billion tons of coal—as much coal as has been
mined from the region in the last 20 years. WildEarth Guardians’ report
found that together, these proposals threaten to lead to the release of more
than 9.63 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide—more than the amount released
every year by 1.7 billion passenger vehicles annually.
The groups will most likely be filing suit in federal court over the