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Guardians Challenges Massive Mining Plans in Western U.S.

June 30, 2015
Jeremy Nichols (303) 437-7663
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
Washington, D.C.—Together with a coalition, WildEarth Guardians yesterday filed appeals of U.S. Interior Department plans to make 80 billion tons of coal available for mining in Montana and Wyoming.

“At a time when our world is struggling to reduce carbon,keep fossil fuels in the ground, and have any chance of rescuing our climate,Interior is opening the door for an unprecedented amount of coal production,”said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “This isn’t just inconsistent with our climate objectives, it completely destroys them.”

The proposed plans direct how the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management would manage publicly owned lands and minerals in the Buffalo Field Office of northeastern Wyoming and Miles City Field Office of eastern Montana. This region contains the Powder River Basin, the nation’s largest coal producing region.

More than 10 billion tons of coal would be made available for mining in the Buffalo Field Office and more than 70 billion tons would be made available in the Miles City Field Office.

Based on estimates from the Bureau of Land Management that every ton of coal mined in this region produces 1.659 metric tons of carbon dioxide, this means the mining threatens to unleash more than 130billion metric tons of carbon.

This represents more than 20 times the amount of total greenhouse gas emissions released in the U.S. in 2013. It would also erase the gains to be made by the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

To put the potential emissions into further perspective, the Keystone XL Pipeline, which has drawn a national flurry of concern and galvanized a climate movement, would release a little more than six billion metric tons of carbon.

“Without a doubt, the Interior Department’s coal plans for Montana and Wyoming represent the single largest, most costly and dangerous threat to our climate in this nation,” said Nichols. “Every American should be outraged that our federal government, despite extolling the need to dramatically reduce carbon,is actually paving the way for the coal industry to stay in business and keep polluting our atmosphere.”

In administrative appeals, called “protests,” filed yesterday, WildEarth Guardians joined the Western Environmental Law Center, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and Montana Environmental Information Center in calling on the Interior Department to abandon its coal plans for both the Buffalo and Miles City Field Offices.

Citing the enormous carbon costs of more coal mining and complete disregard to the climate impacts of burning coal, the groups called on Interior to back down from its proposal and instead adopt plans that do not make more coal available for mining in the region.

The appeals come as the Interior Department is increasingly recognizing the inconsistency of making coal available for mining while striving to reduce carbon. In a speech in March, Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, commented that it’s time for an“honest conversation” about the federal program and to answer the question,“How do we manage the [federal coal] program in a way that is consistent with our climate change objectives?”

A response to the protests is likely by the end of August2015.