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Enviros sue gov’t over climate effects of coal lease program

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powder river coal_chrisTwo environmental groups are taking the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to court for failing to consider the harmful climate effects of the federal government’s coal leasing program.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils. Interestingly, Bloomberg reported that the suit is funded by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen.

In addition to the Allen connection, this is a big deal because the two groups are seeking the first comprehensive review of the federal coal-leasing program since 1979. “Since that time, scientific evidence has established that greenhouse gases produced by coal mining and combustion endanger the public health and welfare,” the groups said in a statement. “The BLM, however, has never analyzed the coal leasing program’s impact on climate change.”

The FOE and WORC suit is seeking a court order to require BLM to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) for the federal coal leasing program. BLM is an agency of the U.S. Interior Department, responsible for the leasing and oversight of about 570 million acres of coal country owned by the federal government.

“There is an inconsistency between the President’s declared policy on global warming and the coal leasing policy of the BLM,” explained Ben Schreiber, FOE climate and energy program director. “The lawsuit is saying, under the law, the BLM must provide an updated programmatic environmental impact statement that examines the contribution of mining and combustion of BLM coal to climate change and consider alternative energy policy options that would help reduce global warming.”

More than 80 percent of federal coal comes from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming. Combustion of coal produced and sold from federal lands accounted for 11 percent of all U.S. GHG emissions in 2012 and 14 percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions, according to the complaint.

“A full environmental study will enable the BLM to fulfill their duty to promote environmentally responsible management of public lands in light of climate change on behalf of the citizens of the United States,” said Bob LeResche, WORC’s vice chair.

“More than 40 percent of all the coal mined in the United States is owned by U.S. taxpayers, yet the BLM has not fulfilled its obligation to manage these resources responsibly,” said Dune Ives, co-manager of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

The lawsuit uncovers a pretty stark disconnect between BLM’s coal leasing program and the administration’s policy to address climate change by “using less dirty energy, using more clean energy, wasting less energy throughout our economy.” It’s hard to believe BLM has been relying on a 35-year-old environmental impact statement to keep the coal leasing program operating. Another example of how King Coal games the regulatory system.

Image: Powder River Basin by chris via Flickr CC

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