Court battle over Wyoming public lands coal leases shows contradictions in Obama’s climate change policies
The battle over fossil fuels is intensifying both on the ground — where activists are protesting new coal projects — and in the courts, where environmental organizations are trying to block a series of huge federal coal leases on public lands in the U.S.
In the U.S. District Court case, the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians are challenging four leases that would permit fossil fuel companies to strip mine more than two billion tons of coal, and the conservation groups pointed out this week in a press release that the federal government is taking the absurd position that the leases won’t affect the amount of coal mined, the amount of coal burned, or the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.
“President Obama and Secretary Jewell took a huge step forward to protect our climate when they announced the comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program … But lawyers defending BLM continue to deny that the largest leases in the history of the federal coal leasing program have any impact on our climate — and that is flat out wrong,” said said Bill Corcoran, Western Regional Campaign Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
Corcoran was referring to a brief filed by BLM attorneys showing that the federal agency is adhering to historic policies that are out of step with the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Even as President Obama is acknowledging the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, the BLM is actively defending its decision to approve billions of tons of new coal mining,’“ said Jeremy Nichols, the Climate and Energy Program director for WildEarth Guardians. “For our climate and our future, the President and Secretary Jewell need to rein in this rogue agency and start keeping our coal in the ground,” Nichols said.
The new leases would expand what already the largest coal mines in the U.S. 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.