Environmental Groups Challenge Interior’s Sham Leasing Program in Nation’s Largest Coal Producing Region
April 5, 2011
On April 4, Sierra Club and its allies filed a lawsuit challenging Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) refusal to properly manage and plan coal leasing in the nation’s largest coal producing region.
Nearly 500 million tons of coal is strip mined annually from the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana and yet the area is not considered to be a coal producing region. The coal is burned in more than 200 coal-fired power plants in more than 35 states, and is increasingly shipped overseas and burned in Asian coal plants.
Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians and Defenders of Wildlife are challenging the Department of Interior’s refusal to re-certify the Powder River Basin as a “coal production region.” The decertification, authorized by BLM in 1990, has allowed the government to sidestep leasing procedures critical to ensuring that the global warming impacts of burning the coal are adequately addressed. When a region is not certified, it allows coal companies to design their own lease boundaries in a manner that effectively precludes competition in the bidding process. The BLM only analyzes the environmental impacts on a lease-by-lease basis rather than for the region as a whole.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of Secretary Salazar’s announcement that billions of tons of new coal will be leased in the Powder River Basin. The region is already a root contributor to global warming pollution in the U.S., every year releasing 800 million metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. The Interior Department is now pushing to offer twelve new coal leases in the Powder River Basin that would collectively allow mining of up to 5.8 billion tons of coal—as much coal as has been mined from the region in the last 20 years.
In November 2009, WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Interior Secretary to recertify the Powder River Basin as a coal producing region. This request was rejected in January 2011, which prompted the environmental groups’ most recent lawsuit. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Details and Documents:
Groups to Interior Department: Put Clean Energy First
April 5, 2011, Sierra Club et al. Press Release
Sierra Club et al. Complaint for Declaratory & Injunctive Relief
April 4, 2011, U.S. District for the District of Columbia
Groups sue to reform Powder River Basin leasing
April 5, 2011 by Manuel Quinones, Greenwire
Coal mining in Powder River Basin of Mont., Wyo. challenged with lawsuit over climate change
April 5, 2011 by Matthew Brown, The Associated Press
Obama administration announces massive coal mining expansion
March 23, 2011 by Glenn Hurowitz, Grist
BLM denies request to change coal leasing process
February 8, 2011 by Mead Gruver, The Associated Press
See other "Stopping Mountaintop Removal and Other Destructive Mining" cases.