Strip mining approvals opened the door for massive amounts of carbon pollution
DENVER—(ENEWSPF)–October 8, 2015. Stepping up to defend the climate, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club today took the next step in their challenge to the Obama Administration’s approval of billions of tons of coal mining in the western United States.
“Our clean water, the air we breathe, the safety of our communities: they all depend on reversing the impacts of global warming and restoring a safe climate,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “In spite of this, the Administration is signing off on more coal mining, literally undermining our efforts to cut carbon pollution and protect our nation.”
The appeal seeks to overturn a U.S. District Court ruling that upheld the approval of four coal leases in northeastern Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which produces more than 40 percent of the nation’s coal. The U.S. Department of the Interior issued leases for South Hilight, North Hilight, South Porcupine and North Porcupine in 2012, opening the door for companies to strip mine more than two billion tons of new coal.
Coal from the Powder River Basin is burned throughout the U.S. and is increasingly exported to Asia, releasing carbon pollution on a global scale.
If all of the newly leased coal were burned, it would release more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution into the air, the equivalent of cutting down enough trees to cover an area more than twice the size of Texas. The decision to open up large amounts of taxpayer-owned coal contradicts the Obama Administration’s action on climate elsewhere, including its rollout of the Clean Power Plan and preparation for November’s international climate summit in Paris.
“When it comes to acting on climate change, the BLM’s federal coal leasing program is out-of-step with the rest of the Obama administration and has been for some time,” said Connie Wilbert, a Sierra Club organizer based in Laramie, Wyo. “If President Obama and Secretary Jewell want to leave a positive climate legacy and protect Americans from climate disruption, they need to keep taxpayer-owned coal in the ground. This administration must protect future generations of American families from the harm that opening up billions of tons of coal would cause.”
The challenged coal leases are some of the largest leases ever approved by the federal government. Together the four would expand the nation’s two largest coal mines, Arch Coal’s Black Thunder mine and Peabody Energy’s North Antelope-Rochelle mine.
The leasing decisions underscore the Department of the Interior’s role as a root contributor to global warming. Forty percent of all coal produced nationally is publicly owned and managed by Interior, making the agency responsible for more than 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution.
A report released earlier this year called the Obama administration’s role in approving coal and other fossil fuel development a “blind spot” in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, and Interior is increasingly under fire for approving more coal miningeven as it acknowledges the need to combat climate change.
Coal leases last for 20 years and give companies a right to mine at any time during their duration, guaranteeing that coal under appeal will be mined and burned if the leasing is ultimately upheld.
The appeal was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver.