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WildEarth Guardians Files Suit to Halt Coal Mining in Four Western States

Lack of Transparency Undermining Public Interest, Risking the Rocky Mountains

Denver—Seeking to restore public transparency and to protect clean air, water, and wildlife, WildEarth Guardians today filed suit against the U.S. Interior Department to overturn its shadowy approval of coal mining throughout the West.

“The public has taken a backseat to the demands of coal companies in the Rocky Mountain West,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “With no transparency, we have no guarantee that coal mining in the Rockies is safeguarding our environment, protecting our communities, and that it’s actually in the public interest.”

Coal mining in the western United States takes a significant toll on the environment.  Not only is the coal burned, ultimately producing hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide, a key global warming pollutant, but mining is leading to air pollution, water contamination, and putting wildlife at risk.  The American West, which is the source of more than 60% of all coal burned in the U.S., endures a disproportionate brunt.

The suit targets the Interior Department’s illegal approval of mining federally owned coal at seven coal mines in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, as well as the role of the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement.

A Google map of the mines can be viewed here >>

Under federal law, the Interior Department has to approve a “Mining Plan” before a company can mine federal coal reserves.  WildEarth Guardians’ complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, challenges Interior’s failure to provide any public notice or opportunity for public comment on the Mining Plans before approving them.

Public notice has to be provided before approving Mining Plans due to the fact that the Interior Department can only approve the mining of federally owned coal if it is deemed to be in the public interest.  Despite this, in the last six years, Interior has approved numerous Mining Plans authorizing the extraction of over a billion tons of federally owned coal throughout the West—all without notifying the public.

WildEarth Guardians suit targets only the most egregious Mining Plans, including plans for the San Juan coal mine in New Mexico, the Colowyo and Trapper mines in Colorado, the Black Thunder, Cordero Rojo, and School Creek mines in Wyoming, and the Spring Creek mines in Montana.

The Black Thunder, Cordero Rojo, School Creek, and Spring Creek Mines are located in the Powder River Basin, the largest coal producing region in the nation and source of more than 13% of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.  These mines and the companies that operate them, including Arch, Peabody, and Cloud Peak, have recently come under intense scrutiny because of their link to coal exports to Asia.

In addition to the failure to provide public notice, the suit also challenges the failure of Interior to analyze the environmental impacts of coal mining—particularly the air quality impacts—as well as the related impacts of coal combustion.

All mines pose tremendous environmental impacts, putting public health and welfare at risk.  For example, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Colowyo mine in Colorado is currently in violation of the Clean Air Act and has exceeded its water pollution limits by as much as 589%.  The Trapper mine in Colorado is also currently in violation of the Clean Air Act and has exceeded its water pollution limits by more than 1,000%.  Additionally, according to the EPA, the San Juan mine in New Mexico is currently violating its water pollution limits by as much as 534%.  The Black Thunder mine in Wyoming, the largest coal mine in the world, has also recently violated its air pollution limits.

“Without any public knowledge, Interior has given the green light for coal companies to despoil our air, our water, and our land,” said Nichols.  “It’s bad enough that that Interior is approving this kind of dirty energy development in secret, but it’s also doing so without consideration of the environmental implications.  The public deserves better.”

The suit seeks to halt coal mining operations at these mines until the Interior Department and the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement their obligations to the public and the environment.


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