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Obama Administration Stops Coal Sales to Protect Climate

January 15, 2016
Jeremy Nichols (303) 437-7663
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
Friday, January 15, 2016
Obama Administration Stops Coal Sales to Protect Climate

Interior Department Commits to Reforms that Reduce Carbon Pollution, End Industry Breaks
Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 437-7663

Washington, D.C.—Ina groundbreaking step forward for the climate, the Obama Administration todayannounced it intends to putthe brakes on federal coal sales and institute a suite of reforms to keepfossil fuels in the ground.

“This is a major victory for the climate and for America,”said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy ProgramDirector. “It’s time to keep ourpublicly owned coal in the ground and stop letting coal companies profit offthe destruction of our planet.”

The move today has the potential to keep nearly threebillion tons of coal in the ground and to prevent the release of more than fivebillion metric tons of carbon pollution, as much as is released every year byone billion cars. It also promises toensure the coal industry pays its fair share as America transitions away fromfossil fuels.

Most importantly, the announcement opens the door forreforms that will wind down the federal government’s role in approving morecoal mining in the U.S. and calls into question the future viability ofcompanies dependent on publicly owned coal.

The reforms come on the heels of President Obama’s State ofthe Union Address earlier this week, where he announced it’s time to “changethe way we manage…our coal” to address the costs of climate change to ourplanet. And last fall, the Presidentremarked that, “if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth frombecoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re goingto have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them andrelease more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

More than 40% of all coal produced in the U.S. comes frompublicly owned deposits that are managed by the U.S. Department of theInterior. This coal, which is extractedmainly from the American West, is mined for one reason: to be burned. When burned, this coal producesmore than 11% of all U.S. greenhouse gases.

During the Obama Administration, the Interior Department hasleased billions of tons of publicly owned coal to private companies, givingthem the right to mine and sell it for profit. For several years now, WildEarth Guardians has called on Interior tostop selling publicly owned coal and to move to end the federal coal program.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to help our nation fullymove toward clean energy,” said Nichols. “Importantly, it’s an opportunity to come up with a plan to helpcoal-dependent communities and miners transition to more sustainable and prosperouseconomies.”

Currently, the Interior Department is weighing 61applications for new coal leases nationwide, 42of which are located in the American West. In the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming and southeasternMontana, which is the nation’s largest coal producing region, more than twobillion tons of coal leases are pending. These leases would expand the largest coal mines in the U.S., which areowned by the largest coal companies.

A series of interactive maps prepared by WildEarth Guardiansillustrateswhere these leases are located and provides key details.

In spite of climate concerns, leasing of publicly owned coalhas continued unrestrained. In June of2015, the Interior Department leased42 million tons of coal in Utah, opening the door for more than 78 millionmetric tons of carbon pollution. Andthis month, Interior officials are slated to vote on whether to process to twonew coal leases in the PowderRiver Basin totaling more than 640 million tons of coal.

Last December, a coalition of groups reiteratedcalls for a pause in new coal leasing.

For many years, WildEarth Guardians has beenactively confronting publicly owned coal leasing and mining throughout theAmerican West. In September, Guardians filedsuit to overturn four coal mine expansions. Today’s announcement marks a major milestone victory for theorganization and its years of dedicated advocacy.


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“This is a major victory for the climate and for America,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “It’s time to keep our publicly owned coal in the ground and stop letting coal companies profit off the destruction of our planet.”