Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 11, 2019


Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8308,
Anne Hedges, Montana Environmental Information Center, (406) 443-2520,
Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699,
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663,
Richard Liebert, Citizens for Clean Energy, (406) 736-5791,
Connie Wilbert, Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter, (307) 460-8046,

Groups Blast Plan to Restart Public-lands Coal Leasing

Errors Riddle Rushed Review, Climate Concerns Drive Calls for Phaseout

DENVER— Fifty conservation groups sent a letter calling on the Trump administration to restore a 2016 moratorium on new federal coal leasing and plan an orderly and just transition away from coal production on public lands.

In a separate analysis also submitted Monday to the Bureau of Land Management, many of those same groups condemned the administration’s effort to justify reopening public lands to new coal leasing, citing a litany of factual errors and the BLM’s refusal to evaluate climate impacts.

The BLM’s rushed plan, prepared in under five weeks, responds to an April court order overturning its illegal nixing of a nationwide coal-leasing moratorium.

“This reckless, shoddy analysis ignores science and shrugs off the massive threat that coal leasing poses to humanity,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Climate scientists are calling for rapid progress on pollution cuts, but the Trump administration continues to move dangerously in the opposite direction.”

"Climate disruption is showing up in communities across the country right now, from devastating flooding in the Midwest to increasing drought and wildfire in the Mountain West,” said Connie Wilbert, director of the Sierra Club’s Wyoming chapter. “The very least that the public deserves is accurate information on how much coal leasing on land owned by the taxpayer is contributing to this crisis. We can’t keep our heads in the sand any longer.”

BLM’s analysis of climate impacts miscounts the tonnage of recent coal leases in a variety of ways and minimizes the amount of greenhouse gas pollution from fossil-fuel-based U.S. electricity generation in 2017.

The volume of pollution from those coal leases represents as much as 290 percent of annual pollution from U.S. electricity generation, 100 times larger than the 2.9 percent that BLM claimed. BLM uses the incorrect, smaller figure to support its conclusion that the climate impacts of pausing federal coal leases are “negligible.”

“We can't keep mining our coal and have any chance of confronting the climate crisis,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy director with WildEarth Guardians. “While the coal industry and its cronies in the Trump Administration may deny this fact, it doesn't change the reality that we need a moratorium on new federal coal leases and we need to start keeping our fossil fuels in the ground.”

In an effort to stifle public involvement, the administration gave the public only 12 business days to comment on its 35-page environmental assessment. It explicitly refused to consult with tribes or wildlife agencies regarding impacts to cultural resources or endangered species.

“The Trump administration is determined shut out the public while it ignores science, markets and the value of public lands,” said Anne Hedges, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center. “In Montana, coal leasing on public lands is a ripoff. Coal companies are getting a sweetheart deal while destroying public lands and waters. It seems like the Trump administration is afraid to look under the hood and analyze this program for fear of what it might find.”

Federal coal leases account for about 40 percent of all domestic coal production. There has been no comprehensive review of the federal coal program since 1979, 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.

“Mining coal from our public lands poisons our water, dirties our air and harms our climate,” said Jenny Harbine, a staff attorney at Earthjustice. “Instead of spending public resources to justify destructive policies to exploit our public coal resources, the government should help communities, states and clean-energy industries as they chart the course for a clean-energy future.”

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 an Obama-era moratorium on federal coal leasing. Zinke did so without any environmental review, which a federal court in April found illegal.

“We’ve had enough of coal corporations freeloading at the expense of taxpayers while polluting without consequences,” said Richard Liebert, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who’s now chairman of Citizens for Clean Energy. “This dangerous new plan would just lead to more of the same.”

The January 2016 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, and to ensure Americans received a fair return from sale of the coal.

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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