Federal Court Halts Plans for Colorado Coal Mine Citing Climate Change Concerns
The federal coal leasing program has many flaws, such as cheating taxpayers out of billions of dollars, increasing mining that damages nearby land and water resources, and subsidizing the coal mining industry’s efforts to boost exports. But the biggest problem is that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) pays almost no attention whatsoever to the very obvious fact that when burned, coal will release carbon pollution and contribute to climate change.
However, thanks to an important recent court ruling, the BLM may now have a tougher time denying its role in unlocking huge amounts of carbon pollution. A federal court last week blocked Arch Coal’s plans to expand a coal mine in Colorado, on the grounds that the BLM failed to consider the impacts of climate change when it approved the mine expansion.
“This decision means that these agencies can’t bury their heads in the sand when confronting the very real impacts of climate change,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with Earthjustice, which brought the case along with WildEarth Guardians, High Country Conservation Advocates and the Sierra Club.
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program director added, “This mine expansion was a lose-lose-lose proposition. We stood to lose our backcountry at the expense of our climate. Thankfully, the feds will have to take into account the costs of carbon pollution before approving more coal mining.”
One key component of the court ruling points to the BLM’s failure to incorporate the federal government’s “social cost of carbon” in its review. InsideClimate reports:
The decision was a significant judicial endorsement of a policy tool known as the “social cost of carbon,” which economists and climate scientist use to put a price in today’s dollars on the damages from drought, flood, storm, fire, disease and so forth caused by future global warming due to our emissions from burning fossil fuels.
The BLM has tried to defend its head-in-the-sand approach to coal leasing and climate change with a variety of excuses, and it’s worth reading through the court ruling for the judge’s rebuttals (key sections are pages 16-32). One that deserves particular attention is the judge’s rejection of BLM’s argument “that the same amount of coal will be burned whether or not” this particular coal lease is approved.
This is a familiar argument from fossil fuel companies and the federal agencies that too often favor their interests, and it has been debated at length in regard to fossil fuel projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline and coal export proposals—check out KC Golden’s post for a good explanation of some of the reasons why this is a weak argument, such as that it:
b.) ignores the x-factor: economic “lock-in” to dangerous climate disruption
c.) is morally dubious
This court ruling highlights yet another simple reason why this argument is so absurd when it comes to federal coal leasing – coal competes with other, less polluting forms of generating electricity. The judge writes (page 30):
The production of coal in the North Fork exemption will increase the supply of cheap, low-sulfur coal. At some point this additional supply will impact the demand for coal relative to other fuel sources, and coal that otherwise would have been left in the ground will be burned.
That gets to the core of why the federal coal leasing program is in such need of reform, and why community, health and environmental groups have called on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to establish a moratorium on coal leasing. Even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moves forward with rules to limit carbon pollution from power plants, the BLM is simultaneously leasing coal at cheap rates, ignoring the enormous damage it will do to our climate and undermining progress toward cleaner forms of energy.
President Obama knows that when it comes to fossil fuel reserves, “We’re not going to be able to burn it all,” and it has been over a year since he reminded us that “someday, our children and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world?
Instead of heeding those words, the BLM continues to do all it can to subsidize the coal industry at the expense of everyone else. Right after the court ruling came down, it announced plans to hold yet another coal lease sale in Colorado, which would likely give more than 8 million tons of publicly owned coal, at subsidized rates, to the reserves of Bowie Resource Partners—a company that is aiming to boost coal exports from the West Coast.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that would ban the sale of new cars in California that run only on gasoline by the year 2035. The bid to reduce emissions and combat the climate crisis would make California the first state to ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines, according to POLITICO.
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A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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