Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 22, 2019


Michael Saul, (303) 915-8308,

Disregarding Climate, Trump Administration Pushes to Re-open Public Lands to Coal Leasing

New Effort Ignores Federal Coal's Massive Carbon Pollution

WASHINGTON— The Trump administration today restarted an effort to reopen public lands to new federal coal leasing. In today’s action, the Interior Department responded to a court order overturning its illegal nixing of a nationwide coal leasing moratorium with a highly abbreviated environmental review.

Although Interior’s decision restarts a massive leasing program responsible for approximately 40 percent of all U.S. coal production, the new review attempts to minimize the effects of restarting the federal coal program by focusing only on three coal leases issued between April 2018 and March 2019.

“Climate pollution from coal leasing on America’s public lands is globally significant, but the Trump administration wants to ignore that massive threat,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Shrugging off huge carbon emissions while approving the entire federal coal leasing program shows the depth of climate cynicism at the Interior Department. These guys don’t care how much damage they cause.”

The Interior Department’s announcement offers the public only 15 days to comment on its 35-page environmental assessment. It has stated it does not intend to consult with tribes or wildlife agencies regarding impacts to cultural resources or endangered species.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt recently testified that he “does not lose any sleep” over historically unprecedented levels of greenhouse gas pollution. The first major action of his predecessor, Ryan Zinke, was to terminate a moratorium on federal coal leasing.

Zinke did so without any environmental review, which a court this month found illegal. The moratorium was originally proposed to give the agency time to update the federal coal program to account for the climate impacts of federal coal leasing.

“Bernhardt can only shield the coal program from environmental review for so long,” said Saul. “He knows a full analysis will show coal leasing’s incapability with climate security. That will be another nail in the coal program’s coffin.”

The department’s new “environmental assessment” is typically reserved for actions that have no significant environmental impact. A more rigorous “environmental impact statement,” or EIS, is required for significant federal actions. Under Interior Department policies, an EIS must be prepared for even a single federal coal lease, let alone the entire federal coal program.

The last nationwide EIS for the federal coal leasing program was prepared in 1979. The Obama administration had initiated a moratorium on most new federal coal leases and initiated an EIS for the federal coal leasing program. In April 2017, the Trump administration restarted federal coal leasing and scrapped plans for the comprehensive environmental review.

Federal coal leases account for about 40 percent of all domestic coal production. Despite huge advances in scientific understanding of the enormous climate, air pollution, and public health consequences of coal mining and combustion, as well as sharp declines in demand for coal for power production, there has been no comprehensive review of the federal coal program since 1979.

Federal fossil fuel production causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution, and federal coal production by itself caused 13 percent of all U.S. CO2 pollution in 2014. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce CO2 emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.

Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons (GtCO2e) of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 GtCO2e. Leased federal oil, gas and coal are projected to last until 2055, 2044, and 2041, respectively, given the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2016 “reference case” for fossil fuel production. Hundreds of organizations have petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore federal fossil fuel leasing.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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