The leaders of 21 organizations welcomed Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to her first day on the job today with a letter calling for “an immediate moratorium on new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin and a comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program.”
Today’s letter emphasizes the huge quantities of carbon pollution unlocked by federal coal leasing in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana, and how that is undermining President Obama’s climate commitment and record. As the letter states; “Between 2011-2012, BLM leased over 2.1 billion tons of coal in the Powder River Basin, unlocking nearly 3.5 billion metric tons of CO2 that will be released when this coal is burned. In comparison, EPA’s newest passenger vehicle emissions standards will reduce an estimated 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of cars made from 2017-2025.”
In other words, the new coal leases that have been approved in just the last two years have unlocked so much carbon pollution, it more than cancels out what will be avoided by one of President Obama’s most significant climate achievements.
In addition to the enormous amounts of carbon pollution, the Department of Interior’s coal giveaways amount to a massive fossil fuel subsidy. As Kelly Mitchell wrote last week, “A federal coal leasing program run by DOI’s Bureau of Land Management has resulted in almost $30 billion in government handouts to the coal industry. The giveaway happens through noncompetitive “auctions” where the Department sells the rights to publicly-owned coal for a fraction of what it’s worth.”
The Government Accountability Office and the Department of Interior’s Inspector General are investigating the federal coal leasing program because of these concerns that it has amounted to a major taxpayer subsidy to coal mining companies. Those concerns have intensified as coal mining companies hope to export increased quantities of federally owned coal, which is supposed to be managed “in the best interests of the nation.”
The groups signing the letter include national environmental, health, and consumer rights organizations, along with community organizations concerned about coal export proposals in Oregon and Washington and the impacts of strip mining coal in Wyoming and Montana. You can add your voice and help stop this giveaway to the coal companies.