Illegal Coal Mining Threatening the Climate, Scamming the Public
Groups File Motion Challenging Coal Leases in Powder River Basin of Wyoming
Powder River Basin of
Wyoming—WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife
late last week filed a motion in federal court to overturn the U.S. Interior
Department’s decision to lease 300 million tons of coal in the Powder River
Basin of northeastern Wyoming, a decision that threatens to fuel global
warming, foul the air, and defraud the public.
“This is a step forward in our efforts to protect people and
our planet from extreme weather, dwindling water supplies, and other climate
change horrors,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy
Program Director. “By leasing
hundreds of millions of tons of federal coal, our government is doing more to
make global warming a threat to our lives than anyone else in this nation. If we don’t hold them accountable, then
we have no hope for a safe and healthy future.”
The motion challenges the Belle Ayr North and Caballo West
coal leases, which were green-lighted by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management
in 2010. The leases, which
guarantee coal companies the right to mine, would expand the Belle Ayr and
Caballo strip mines in the Powder River Basin, the seventh and eighth largest
coal mines in the U.S., respectively.
The Powder River is already the nation’s largest coal
producing region and is linked to more carbon pollution than any other single
region in the U.S. Producing 42%
of all coal mined in the country, the strip mines of this region fuel more than
200 power plants from Oregon to New Jersey. Increasingly, companies are exporting coal from the Powder
River Basin to Asia and other points abroad.
In 2011, a coalition of groups led by WildEarth Guardians
filed suit in federal court to overturn the Belle Ayr North and Caballo West
coal leases. The suit targeted the
Bureau of Land Management’s failure to limit carbon pollution and to protect
clean air from strip mining in the Powder River Basin.
The latest motion calls on the federal court to rule that
the Bureau of Land Management violated federal environmental laws. The motion also comes on the heels of a
reports in 2012 that the federal leasing program has cost
American taxpayers almost $1 billion annually in the past 30 years.
“The Interior Department is ripping off the public at the
expense of our environment,” said Nichols. “This reckless disregard for taxpayer dollars and for the
future of our nation has to be stopped.”
When burned, the coal stripped from the Belle Ayr North and
Caballo West leases would release nearly 500 million metric tons of carbon
dioxide, enough to fuel 142 power plants for an entire year. The mining comes as atmospheric
concentrations of carbon dioxide are greatly exceeding 350 parts per million,
the level considered safe for humanity.
The coal leasing comes even as President Obama has called
on carbon pollution within the federal government to confront global
warming. In 2009, the President called
on all federal agencies to “measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas
emissions from direct and indirect activities.”
Despite this, the Interior Department has overseen one of
the greatest expansions of coal mining in the U.S. ever. In the last three years, Interior has
proposed 16 new coal leases in the Powder River Basin that would collectively mine
more than 6.8 billion tons of coal, which when burned threatens to release more
than 11.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide—twice the amount of greenhouse
gases released annually in the U.S.
A ruling on the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S.
District Court for the District of Washington, D.C. isn’t expected until later