02:00 PM

Coalition expands call for solutions to climate change in Powder River Basin

Groups seek to prevent coal pollution from harming air quality and climate by halting sale of massive coal leases

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (08/31/2010) -

On August 30, a coalition of conservation groups called on the U.S. Interior Board of Land Appeals to safeguard clean air, protect the climate, and open the door for clean energy by halting the sale and mining of more than 350 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming.

“This would be yet another blow to a clean energy future,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.  “This country needs solutions that safeguard our clean air and climate, yet the Interior Department is rubberstamping some of the largest coal mining proposals ever to be proposed.  This is a dirty energy disgrace.”

The Belle Ayr North and Caballo West leases would allow for the mining of more than 350 million tons of coal, enough to fuel 152 coal-fired power plants for an entire year.  When burned, the coal would release more than 643 million tons of climate-disrupting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the same amount released every year by 111,655,273 passenger vehicles.  In decisions signed July 22 and July 28, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to offer the Belle Ayr North and Caballo West coal leases for sale.

The Powder River Basin has been described as a “root contributor” to global warming in the United States.  The region is the largest coal production region in the nation, every year strip mining more than 500 million tons of coal, which is then burned in coal-fired power plants across the country.  The BLM has disclosed that the region is linked to more than thirteen percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

“Future generations are looking to us to protect our scarce water resources, our wildlife habitat, and our health and welfare, yet the BLM refuses to rise to the challenge,” said Steve Thomas, a resident of the Powder River Basin area in Wyoming and a Regional Field Organizing Director with the Sierra Club.  “The BLM should consider the welfare of the entire community, not just the coal companies’ bottom line.”

WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife filed their petition for a stay before the Interior Board of Land Appeals on Monday, August 30, to prevent the sale of the Belle Ayr North and Caballo West coal leases.  The groups cited the Bureau of Land Management’s own findings that the leases would lead to violations of federal and state air quality standards and would fuel the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide in the United States, as well as the agency’s refusal to consider alternatives that would address these impacts.

The appeal also challenges the BLM’s decision that the Powder River Basin is not a federal coal production region, despite being the largest coal producing region in the United States.  This has allowed the agency to utilize a coal leasing process called “lease by application”, which gives more control over the leasing program to coal companies and exempts the BLM from regional environmental oversight requirements.  

“If BLM and the federal government are serious about a clean energy future and finding a solution to climate change, they must rethink the decision to open the door to Belle Ayr North, Caballo West, and other pending coal leases," said Adam Kron, staff attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “Confronting climate change will involve some complex decisions as a nation, but mining billions of tons of new coal from the Powder River Basin is not the answer.”

The petition for stay was filed on the heels of a federal lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife in July over the BLM’s decision to offer the West Antelope II coal leases for sale.  The West Antelope II coal leases would lead to the mining of more than 400 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin.  That lawsuit also challenges the ongoing failure of the BLM to address the global warming impacts of coal mining in the Powder River Basin and the agency’s decision that the Powder River Basin is not a coal production region.  

All told, the Bureau of Land Management is attempting to offer twelve new coal leases in the Powder River Basin that could collectively mine up to 5.8 billion tons of coal—as much coal as has been mined from the region in the last twenty years.  Together, these proposals threaten to lead to the release of more than 9.63 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, nearly 150 percent of the amount of greenhouse gases released in the United States in all of 2008.

Under federal regulations, the Interior Board of Land Appeals has forty-five days to rule on the groups’ petition for stay.


Click here for more information on the BLM’s decision.

Learn more about the groups’ lawsuit.

See how Defenders is working to stop climate change. 


Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226, cleutwiler@defenders.org
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 573-4898 x 1303, cell (303) 437-7663
David Graham-Caso, Sierra Club, (213) 387-6528 x214

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members, supporters and subscribers, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org