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Conservation Coalition Steps up Call for Clean Energy in Powder River Basin of Wyoming

July 13, 2010
Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x1303
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Conservation Coalition Steps up Call for Clean Energy in Powder River Basin of Wyoming

Groups File Lawsuit to Halt Sale of Massive West Antelope II Coal Leases
Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x1303

Washington, D.C.-A coalition of conservation groups today filed suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior to halt the sale and mining of coal leases containing more than 400 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming. The groups, including WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife, are seeking to halt the dangerous mining in order to safeguard clean air, protect the climate, and open the door for clean energy. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and is the first case challenging the Obama Administration’s failure to confront the global warming impacts of its federal coal leasing program.

“We can’t strip mine our way to clean energy,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Every ton of coal mined from the Powder River Basin is a ton of progress we lose in maintaining clean air and keeping our climate safe. It’s time for the Interior Department to start taking its commitment to clean energy seriously.”

The “West Antelope II” leases would lock in the mining of more than 400 million tons of coal, enough to fuel 173 coal-fired power plants for an entire year. When burned, the coal will release more than 740 million tons of carbon dioxide, the amount released every year by over 127.5 million passenger vehicles.

The Powder River Basin is the largest coal producing region in the nation and has been described as a “root contributor” to climate change in the United States. Last year, WildEarth Guardians released the report, “UnderMining the Climate,” exposing the global warming impacts of coal mining in the Powder River Basin. Every year 500 million tons of Powder River Basin coal is strip mined and then burned in hundreds of coal-fired power plants across the country. The Bureau of Land Management reports the region’s coal is responsible for nearly 14 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

“This is a dirty energy disaster we can’t afford to turn our back on,” said Aaron Isherwood, staff attorney with the Sierra Club. “Climate change puts the West’s scarce water resources at risk, threatens our forests, abundant wildlife, and our western heritage. It’s time to decrease our dependence on coal and transition to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.”

The groups cited the Bureau of Land Management’s own findings that the leases would lead to violations of federal and state air quality standards and would fuel the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide, as well as the agency’s refusal to consider alternatives that would address these impacts.

The lawsuit comes as the Bureau of Land Management is pushing to offer an additional 12 new coal leases in the Powder River Basin that could collectively mine up to 5.8 billion tons of coal-as much coal as has been mined from the entire region over the last twenty years. Together, these proposals threaten to lead to the release of more than 10.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, nearly one and a half times the total amount of greenhouse gases released in the United States in 2008.

“We can’t confront climate change while producing more coal from public lands in the Powder River Basin,” said Adam Kron, staff attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “No other region in the United States produces as much coal for burning in coal-fired power plants, the largest source of carbon dioxide in the U.S. If we’re serious about curbing climate change, we must start by addressing the prime offenders – and this means rejecting new Powder River Basin coal leases.”

The groups are being represented by Samantha Ruscavage-Barz of WildEarth Guardians, Matt Kenna of Durango, Colorado, and Adam Kron of Defenders of Wildlife.

WildEarth Guardians is dedicated to protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, and wild rivers of the American West and is online at www.wildearthguardians.org.

Defenders of Wildlife is one of the country’s leading science-based conservation organizations dedicated to the protection and restoration of native wildlife, natural habitats, and public lands. Learn more about Defenders of Wildlife at www.defenders.org.

The Sierra Club is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth. For more information about the Sierra Club and the Beyond Coal campaign, please visit www.sierraclub.org/coal.

View the Complaint here (PDF)