August 5, 2012
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s decision to lease over 400 million tons of coal to Cloud Peak Energy in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin was upheld by a federal court judge, rejecting a challenge by WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club and the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
According to WildEarth Guardians, the case is the first in a series of legal challenges over BLM’s coal leasing program in the Powder River Basin, as the groups vowed to continue legal and other efforts to challenge BLM’s coal leases.
“Our commitment remains firm to continue to fight to protect public health and the environment and safeguard the climate,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians.
The largest coal-producing region in the U.S.
The Powder River Basin region of northeastern Wyoming, the largest coal-producing region in the U.S., is the source of 40% of the nation’s coal, said WildEarth Guardians. Federal government lands, managed by the BLM, contain nearly all of the coal mined in the region, according to the group, which noted that 15 new federal coal leases have been proposed for the basin in the last two years despite shrinking domestic demand.
Conservationists believe that mining companies, including Cloud Peak Energy (operator of the Antelope Mine in Campbell and Converse counties), are seeking to export more coal to Asian markets.
Subsidizing coal extraction
WildEarth Guardians pointed out that the federal court decision comes after a June report of BLM’s coal leasing program from the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis finding that the program results in a large subsidy to the coal industry by providing coal at bargain prices with minimal oversight.
“For too long, BLM’s policies have sacrificed Wyoming’s air, land, and water quality to the coal industry.” said Shannon Anderson, an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “This case is just one more example of how BLM’s unfair and unregulated coal leasing practices overlook important local and national impacts.”
“BLM should prioritize increasing clean energy options here at home instead of continuing to protect mining companies’ profit margin at the expense of U.S. families and taxpayers,” said Connie Wilbert, a Wyoming Sierra Club chapter member. “We’ll continue to work to make sure BLM and other federal agencies protect our water, air, and wild lands.”