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BLM Holds Colorado Coal Auction, Turns Back on Climate

Climate

WildEarth Guardians

WildEarth Guardians and Greenpeace are denouncing plans by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to auction off 21 million tons of coal in Colorado today, calling out the sale as contradictory to our nation’s climate change goals and counter to clean air.

The groups plan to attend the sale and demonstrate for a safe climate and healthy skies.

“The Interior Department is continuing to put climate last, putting our nation and our communities at great risk,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program Director. “This coal sale may make money for Interior Department bureaucrats and the mining industry, but the American public will be stuck with the bill for more global warming pollution.”

In his State of the Union address, President Obama promised that he would “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Today, the Bureau of Land Management is set to break that promise by selling 21 million tons of coal.

The sale, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the BLM’s Colorado State Office in west Lakewood, will expand Blue Mountain Energy’s Deserado mine in Rio Blanco County in northwestern Colorado.

The mine is the sole fuel source for the 500-megawatt Bonanza power plant, located 30 miles west in northeastern Utah. Bonanza is owned and operated by Deseret Power Cooperative, the parent company for Blue Mountain Energy. The 600-foot tall smokestack of the Bonanza power plant spews 4.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, equal to the annual emissions of more than a million cars.

By selling the coal, the BLM will extend the life of the Bonanza power plant until 2032. This is despite the fact that when the plant was built, it was planned to operate only until 2016.

The move comes on the heels of calls by over 135,000 people, as well as national, regional and local groups, for new Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, to reform the Interior Department’s coal leasing program and to account for the massive amounts of global warming that inevitably result.

In an April letter, WildEarth Guardians, Greenpeace and others called on Ms. Jewell to institute a coal leasing moratorium until the department can complete a review of the program to ensure both its environmental and financial integrity. The Interior Secretary has yet to respond.

“Sadly, the Interior Secretary seems intent on sustaining coal above all else,” said Nichols. “This dangerous disconnect has to stop, it’s time for the Interior Department to keep the coal in the ground.”

Interior is moving forward with today’s lease sale in spite of mounting air quality problems in Rio Blanco County, CO, and in neighboring Utah counties. Earlier this year, smog levels violated federal health limits in the region. Despite this, the BLM has asserted that smog is not a problem in the region.

WildEarth Guardians has challenged the BLM’s decision to offer the lease, calling on the Interior Board of Land Appeals to overturn the agency’s approval. The agency, however, has refused to postpone the lease sale to allow the appeal to be resolved.

“More coal is a recipe for more pollution; that’s something Colorado, as well as our nation, can’t afford,” said Nichols. “With Colorado leading the way on clean energy, it’s a shame that the Bureau of Land Management is rushing to sacrifice our western skies to appease the coal industry.”

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.

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