May 3, 2012
More Information Contact:
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program
Director, (303) 573-4898 x 1303
Connie Wilbert, Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club, (307) 742-0056
“We Can’t Strip Mine our Way to a Safe Climate”
File Suit Over Largest Coal Plans Ever Approved by U.S. Interior Department
River Basin, Wyoming — Safeguarding the climate, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra
Club yesterday filed suit against the U.S. Department of Interior over one of the
largest coal mining plans ever to be approved by the federal government.
“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 Interior Department is signing off on more coal and more
greenhouse gases than ever before. This
has to stop.”
The suit challenges four new coal leases in the Powder River Basin
of northeastern Wyoming, which produces 43% of the nation’s coal. The leases would open the door for more than
two billion tons of new strip mining.
Coal from the Powder River Basin is burned throughout the U.S. and is
increasingly exported to Asia, spewing carbon dioxide on a global scale.
The challenged leases threaten to lead to more than 3.3 billion
metric tons of carbon dioxide, which would be like cutting down more than 400
million acres of forest—an area roughly four times the size of Texas. The mining comes as atmospheric
concentrations of carbon dioxide are greatly exceeding 350 parts per million,
the level considered safe for humanity.
In 2009, Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, sounded the
alarms over increases in carbon dioxide and their link to global warming, stating
in 2009 “Carbon pollution is putting our world – and our way of life – in
“The Sierra Club is deeply disappointed in the Department of
Interior’s decision,” said Connie Wilbert with the Wyoming Chapter of the
Sierra Club. “It’s time we invest in
clean, responsible energies like wind and solar. With our economy at risk and our climate in
crisis doubling down on coal is simply the wrong choice. This mining site will heavily contribute to
one of the worst forms of pollution in the United States. Interior should not be in the business of
making kids, families and communities sicker.”
Since Salazar’s statement, reports have found that climate change
water supplies in the western U.S. and fueling abnormal
weather, including lethal tornadoes, in the nation.
Despite Salazar’s statement, the coal leases at issue would
represent one of the largest coal mining plans ever approved by the federal
government. Recent reports
show that the Interior Department has been downplaying, if not outright
covering up, greenhouse gas emissions associated with its coal decisions.
The Powder River Basin is a root contributor to global warming in
the U.S. Producing more than 460 million
tons of coal annually, power plants in 35 states from Oregon to New Jersey burn
coal from the region. The coal is
federally owned and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, an Interior
Department agency. The Bureau estimates
that for every one ton of Powder River Basin coal burned, 1.659 metric tons of
carbon dioxide are released. In total,
the region is responsible for 13% of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, more
than any other single activity.
At the same time, strip mining in the Powder River Basin is
fueling regional clean air concerns.
Reports by the Bureau of Land Management have found that coal mining is
contributing to violations of air quality limits for particulate matter and
nitrogen dioxide gases (a byproduct of blasting at coal mines).
Today’s lawsuit targets the South Hilight, North Hilight, South
Porcupine, and North Porcupine coal leases. These leases would allow the
expansion of the world’s two largest coal mines—the Black Thunder and North
Antelope Rochelle mines—which are owned by two of the world’s largest coal
companies—Arch Coal (Black Thunder) and Peabody Energy (North Antelope
Coal leases, which last for 20 years, give companies a right to
mine, which guarantees that if the Bureau of Land Management’s decisions to
issue the leases are upheld, the coal will be mined.
The leases are the first of six pending leases approved by the
Interior Department to expand the Black Thunder and North Antelope Rochelle
mines. Called the “Wright Area” coal
leases, the six leases collectively threaten to open the door for a total of
4.2 billion tons of new coal mining.
Filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., today’s lawsuit
challenges the Interior Department’s failure to comply with the National
Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy Management Act.