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To Protect Climate, Public Health, Americans Call for End to Federal Coal Program

July 28, 2016
Jeremy Nichols, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy
Thursday, July 28, 2016
To Protect Climate, Public Health, Americans Call for End to Federal Coal Program

Ending Public Coal Leasing, Mining Would Keep 212 Billion Tons of Carbon in Ground, Save $7 Trillion
Contact: Jeremy Nichols, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org

Additional Contacts:

Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8308, msaul@biologicaldiversity.org

Denni Cawley, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, (385) 707-3677,dcawleyuphe@gmail.com

Mariel Nanasi, New Energy Economy, (505) 989-7262, mariel@seedsbeneaththesnow.com

Kyle Tisdel, Western Environmental Law Center, (575) 613-8050, tisdel@westernlaw.org

Kaitlin Butler, Science and Environmental Health Network, (801) 910-4820,kaitlin@sehn.org

Detailed comments submitted by WildEarthGuardians can be downloaded here >>

WASHINGTON— A coalition of groups today called on President Obama to permanently end thefederal coal program, highlighting the fact that ending leasing and mining ofpublic coal in the United States would keep up to 212 billion metric tons ofcarbon pollution in the ground — the equivalent of taking nearly 50 billioncars off the road and saving society more than $7 trillion in avoided climatedamages.

“If we have any chance of avoiding the worst consequences of globalwarming, we have to move away from fossil fuels,” said Jeremy Nichols,WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program director. “This shift startswith reining in the mining of our publicly owned coal and helpingcoal-dependent communities transition to more prosperous and sustainableeconomies.”

The new figures were part of detailed comments submitted today at theclose of the public scoping period for the comprehensive review and potentialreform of the federal coal-leasing program. In response to mountingcontroversy, including the climate impacts from burning coal, InteriorSecretary Sally Jewell kicked off the reform process in January, announcing a temporary moratorium onnew leasing and the initiation of a full environmental review of the federal coalprogram. While the review is underway, Jewell has ordered a pause insignificant new coal-leasing decisions on public lands.

Halting federal coal leasing and mining will have significant benefitsto the climate as well as people and the environment. Among the more than $7trillion in savings from stopping public coal leasing in the United States aresavings in terms of human health costs and infrastructure damage caused byclimate-driven events.

The groups today, representing local, regional and nationalenvironmental and health organizations, also sent a letter to President Obama summarizingthe specific requests for reforms in how publicly owned coal is managed,including an end to the federal coal program altogether, which would keep up to212 billion metric tons of carbon in the ground, according to a recent report by EcoShift, prepared forthe Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth.

Based on conservative carbon-cost estimates that place the value of ametric ton of carbon dioxide at $37, future coal leasing and mining threaten tosaddle society with more than $7 trillion in damages and health-related costs.

“The science is clear that there’s no reasonable path to avoiding the worsteffects of climate change without the phase-out of coal mining and combustion,”said Michael Saul, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.“We can’t do that while simultaneously committing to massive new coal mining intothe 2040s and beyond. It’s time for the Department of the Interior to startbeing honest with itself and American communities and shift policies now for aclean and sustainable future.”

Currently more than 40 percent of all coal produced in the United Statescomes from publicly owned reserves that have been leased and are managed by theDepartment of the Interior. The vast majority of this coal is in the AmericanWest. When mined and burned, this coal is responsible for more than 10 percentof all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The groups’ letter comes as global warming is taking a tremendous tollon society, fueling rising temperatures, worsening droughts in the AmericanWest,threatening public health and risking billions in damages toU.S. national parks and other public lands. It also comes amidgrowing public support for keeping fossil fuels in the ground as a means tocombat climate change.

“The climate crisis is now widely regardingby medical organizations throughout the world as the greatest public healththreat of the 21st century,” said Brian Moench, president of the board of directorsfor Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “We are already seeing theconsequences of hotter temperatures, worsening air pollution, more insect-bornediseases, food insecurity and water contamination and scarcity. Those trendswill become much worse if we fail to act.”

Lastyear scientists reported that to rein in global temperature increases, morethan 90 percent of all coal reservesin the United States would have to remain untouched. Further reports havefound more than 100 million metric tons ofcarbon pollution stands to be prevented annually by keeping publicly ownedfossil fuels in the ground. This week,67 prominent climate scientists called on the administration tofight global warming by permanently ending coal leasing on public lands.

Another recent study found that making permanent the moratorium on new coal leasing in thePowder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana — the largest coal-producing region in thenation — could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while stillmeeting foreseeable power demands. The fact is that current federal coal leaseswill last through 2040 and issuing any new leases is incompatible with meetingthe U.S. commitment to the Paris agreement to limit global warming.

The groups joining the letter to President Obama include WildEarthGuardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Rainforest Action Network, UtahPhysicians for a Healthy Environment, New Energy Economy, Montana EnvironmentalInformation Center, Western Environmental Law Center, Grand Canyon Trust,Science and Environmental Health Network and Great Old Broads for Wilderness.

While the coalition today is calling for reforms to lead to the end ofthe federal coal program, the groups’ letter also joined thousands of Americansin calling on the Obama administration to ensure a “just transition” away fromcoal, to provide assistance to communities for economic planning anddevelopment and to prioritize transition as a reform goal.

The Interior Department expects to releasean interim report by the end of 2016 with conclusions from its public process.

AdditionalGroup Statements

“If science, not politics, is the guidefor the decision on public lands management then the issue is absolutely clear:the federal coal-leasing program must be terminated,” said Mariel Nanasi, executivedirector of the New Mexico-based New Energy Economy. “It’s time for the administrationto put science and our future ahead of politics and protect our climate.”

“There is a fundamental disconnect betweenPresident Obama’s recognition that we need to take immediate action on climatechange and how our public lands are managed for energy production, particularlycoal,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney and climate and energy program director with theWestern Environmental Law Center. “If we are to stem the most catastrophicimpacts from a warming planet, as well as dramatic impacts to our communitiesand public health, the transformation must start by reforming the federal coalprogram.”

“In coal country, like Utah where I’m from, thelegacy spans more than a century. Local coal jobs mean income to supportfamily, benefits and getting to work close to home. The hard facts are thatonly a handful of people benefit while the majority of the costs — health, environmental, economic — are borne by frontline workers andcommunities, and will be felt by generations to come,” said Kaitlin Butler, programdirector, Extreme Energy program of the Science and Environmental HealthNetwork. “Ending coal in coal country is hard, complicated. Climate change isstraightforward; we have a big-time problem that calls for urgent action,status-quo is catastrophic. A Just Transition is a way to confront the roots ofthe climate crisis, which are the roots of an extractive economy; it’s aboutthe future of the planet and a new economy. President Obama andSecretary Jewell, you have the opportunity to be proactive and visionary andbegin to shift this legacy of debts in a real way. It’s hard and important. Andit’s the only way forward.”


Other Contact
Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8308, msaul@biologicaldiversity.org