Lawsuit Aims at Environmental Impact of U.S. Coal-Leasing Program

Thursday, November 27, 2014
Coal plant emissions (photo: Cleanwater)

Two environmental groups have sued the federal government to force it to reveal how much a federal coal leasing program is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.


The lawsuit, directed at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), says the coal leasing program’s impact on climate change hasn’t been updated or assessed since 1979.


“The 1979 report only briefly discussed the then-nascent science of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and the federal coal management program’s emissions,” the suit (pdf) states. “This discussion, which comprises approximately one page of text, does not address the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from combustion of coal mined under federal leases, which far exceeds emissions resulting from mining activities.”


The plaintiffs, Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils, who are financially backed by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, want the Department of the Interior, BLM’s parent agency, to conduct a comprehensive environmental review of the coal program. Such a review is critical, they say, because coal mined on federal lands produces 14% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions annually and 11% of its yearly greenhouse gas emissions.


 “There is an inconsistency between President Obama’s declared policy on global warming and the coal leasing policy of the BLM,” Friends of the Earth climate and energy director Ben Schreiber said in a statement. “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.”


According to Friends of the Earth, the BLM has a legal responsibility to supplement a programmatic environmental study whenever significant new information about the program’s environmental impact emerges. There has been a huge increase in scientific understanding of the causes and effects of climate change, including coal’s effect on the climate, in the past three decades.


About 40% of all coal mined in the U.S. is on public lands managed by BLM, which leases property for 309 coal mines across 10 states.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Feds Ignore Climate Change to Cash in on Coal (by William Dotinga, Courthouse News Service)

Groups File Lawsuit against BLM on Coal Leasing Program (by Kate Colwell, Friends of the Earth)

This Land Is Our Land (by Paul Allen, Huffington Post)

Western Organization of Resource Councils, et al, v. Sally Jewell, et al (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia) (pdf)

Despite Dangers, U.S. Increases Dependence on Coal for Electricity (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Federal Judge Orders Bureau of Land Management to Divulge Names of Oil and Gas Lease Bidders (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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