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Federal Court Rejects Challenge to 400 Million Ton Coal Lease on Public Lands
A Federal District court judge in Washington, D.C. ruled against WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club and the Powder River Basin Resource Council’s challenge to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) misguided decision to lease more than 400 million tons of coal to Cloud Peak Energy, the current operator of the Antelope Mine in Campbell and Converse Counties, Wyoming.
The case is the first in a series of legal challenges brought by the conservation groups over BLM’s coal leasing program in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. While the groups were disappointed with the decision, they vowed to continue legal and other efforts to challenge BLM’s coal leases.
“We’re not going away anytime soon,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “Our commitment remains firm to continue to fight to protect public health and the environment and safeguard the climate.”
The decision comes in the wake of a scathing report of BLM’s coal leasing program issued last month by the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. The report finds that BLM’s coal leasing program results in a large subsidy to the coal industry by providing coal at bargain basement prices with minimal oversight.
“For too long, BLM’s policies have sacrificed Wyoming’s air, land and water quality to the coal industry,” said Shannon Anderson, an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “This case is just one more example of how BLM’s unfair and unregulated coal leasing practices overlook important local and national impacts.”
The Powder River Basin region of northeastern Wyoming, the largest coal-producing region in the U.S., is the source of 40 percent of the nation’s coal. The federal government, managed by the BLM, owns nearly all of the coal mined in the region. In the last two years, 15 new federal coal leases have been proposed for the Powder River Basin, yet domestic demand for coal is shrinking. Mining companies, including Cloud Peak Energy, are looking to export more coal to Asia.
“BLM should prioritize increasing clean energy options here at home instead of continuing to protect mining companies’ profit margin at the expense of U.S. families and taxpayers,” said Connie Wilbert, a Wyoming Sierra Club chapter member. “We’ll continue to work to make sure BLM and other federal agencies protect our water, air and wild lands.”
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Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.