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Strip Mining in National Grassland
Shannon Anderson, Powder River Basin Resource Council, (307) 672-5809
L.J. Turner, Member, Powder River Basin Resource Council, (307) 939-1393
Rachele Huennekens, Sierra Club Grassroots Media Coordinator, (415) 977-5761
Michael Soules, University of Colorado Law School, Natural Resources Clinic Director, (303) 492-5897
Denver, CO — WildEarth Guardians, the Powder River Basin Resource Council, and the Sierra Club issued a legal challenge today to the U.S. Forest Service’s misguided decision to open nearly 2,000 acres of the Thunder Basin National Grassland to harmful coal strip mining. The conservation groups charged that the U.S. Forest Service’s consent to the South Porcupine coal lease fails to protect air quality, groundwater aquifers, and wildlife; ensure reclamation of strip-mined lands; and consider alternative options that would lessen climate disruption.
Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of the conservation groups by the University of Colorado Law School Natural Resources Clinic in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
The South Porcupine Coal lease would expand Peabody Energy Corporation’s North Antelope Rochelle strip mine -- one of the largest coal mines in the world – onto the Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming. The U.S. Forest Service’s decision to consent to the lease green-lights the mining of more than 400 million tons of coal, which could worsen the global climate crisis by releasing more than 500 million metric tons of carbon pollution, if burned to produce electricity
“The Forest Service sadly seems to be the leading the charge to destroy the Earth’s climate,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “Yet given the American public’s overwhelming support for clean energy, the agency needs to rethink this dangerously political decision. Dirty energy has no place on our public lands.”
Air quality surrounding the Powder River Basin strip mines continues to decrease, with frequent toxic emissions related to coal blasting and constant dust from mining activities. The groups are challenging the Forest Service’s consent of the coal lease because it does not ensure compliance with air quality standards.
“As a neighbor to the North Antelope coal mine, I have seen dramatic impacts to my quality of life,” said L.J. Turner, a cattle and sheep rancher and member of Powder River Basin Resource Council. “It seems like the Forest Service is sacrificing our air and water quality just to pander to the coal industry.”
The lawsuit comes as the coal industry is seeking to dramatically expand mining in the Powder River Basin region of northeastern Wyoming, the largest coal-producing region in the United States. In the last two years, 15 new coal leases have been proposed for the Powder River Basin, yet domestic demand for coal is shrinking. Mining companies, including Peabody, are looking to export more coal to Asia, and it is likely that coal from the Grasslands will be a part of those export plans.
“Peabody Energy and other Big Coal companies are on notice: we will not tolerate dirty coal mines destroying our public lands and hurting our health,” said Steve Thomas, Sierra Club Western Regional Organizing Director. “The Forest Service and other federal agencies must protect our water, air, and wild lands.”
Photos of the North Antelope Rochelle Mine and photos of air quality problems in the Powder River Basin are available for stories upon request.