02:00 PM

Interior Department takes steps to accelerate climate change

Legal Action Precedes August 17th Coal Sale in Powder River Basin of Wyoming

Power River Basin of Wyoming and Montana (08/16/2011) -

A coalition of conservation groups today stepped up efforts to safeguard the climate from dirty energy, filing suit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over its approval of more than 350 million tons of new coal mining in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming.

The coal would be enough to fuel 152 coal-fired power plants, and when burned, would fuel global warming by releasing more than 643 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide—the amount released every year by 111,655,273 passenger vehicles (according to EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator, http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html#results).

“This is 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, not more dirty energy development.  Sadly, by opening the door for massive new coal mining plans, the Interior Department seems to be sabotaging solutions.”

The lawsuit, filed by WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife, targets decisions by the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the U.S. Interior Department, to auction off the Belle Ayr North and Caballo West coal lease tracts, which together include almost 352 million tons of coal.  The decisions to offer the lease tracts for sale were issued on July 22 and July 28, 2010, respectively.  

The Belle Ayr coal lease was sold on July 13, 2011 to Peabody Energy.  The Caballo West coal lease is also being sought by Peabody Energy, the self-proclaimed “world’s largest private sector coal company.”  The Caballo West coal lease is up for auction on August 17, 2011.  The federal leases would expand the existing Caballo and Belle Ayr strip mines, already the sixth and ninth largest coal mines in the U.S., respectively.

The Powder River Basin covers northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana and is described as a “root contributor” to global warming in the United States.  The region is the largest coal production region in the nation, producing over forty percent of the nation’s coal.  The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees coal leasing and mining in the region, has admitted the region is linked to more than thirteen percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Despite the link between the Powder River Basin and global warming, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently proposed to sign off on twelve new coal leases totaling up to 5.7 billion tons of new mining in the region.  Altogether, these plans will result in the release of more than 9.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, one-and-a-half times the total amount of greenhouse gases released in the U.S. in all of 2008.  Secretary Salazar joined Wyoming Governor Matt Mead in March of this year to tout these massive coal plans, spurning calls for moderation.

Today’s lawsuit challenges the failure of the Bureau of Land Management to meaningfully address the global warming impacts of the Belle Ayr North and Caballo West coal leases, as well as to safeguard clean air.

“A clean energy future beyond coal is critical to protecting our clean air, our lands and our communities in the face of a changing climate,” said Adam Kron, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife.  “Alpha and Peabody are coal companies, and we can’t expect them to look out for anything other than their bottom line. But BLM is a federal agency and a steward of our public lands and has no excuse for approving this reckless and short-sighted deal.”

The lawsuit follows two other federal lawsuits filed by the groups challenging coal mining in the Powder River Basin.  The first was filed in July 2010 over the 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.  The second lawsuit was filed in March 2011 over the Interior Department’s refusal to manage the Powder River Basin as a “coal production region” and to accordingly conduct active, large-scale planning and environmental review.

“This disregard for the climate is at odds with science and sound policy and it is an affront to generations of Americans who deserve a clean energy future,” said Bill Corcoran, Western Region Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.  “Coal is a dirty fuel of the past that is incredibly dangerous to our health.  Coal has no place in the clean energy economy that will put Americans back to work and further coal mining is unnecessarily devastating to our land, air and water.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.


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Caitlin Leutwiler, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3226, cleutwiler@defenders.org
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 573-4898 x 1303
David Graham-Caso, Sierra Club, (213) 427-0584

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, 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.