Enviro group sues Interior over Wyoming coal leasing
April 22, 2010
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – An environmental group is suing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to try to get the government to increase its regulation of mining in the nation’s top coal-producing region.
The lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians in U.S. District Court in Denver on Tuesday also seeks to open up competition for coal leases in the Powder River Basin, instead of letting the government follow the guidance of mining companies that express interest.
The Santa Fe, N.M.-based group petitioned Salazar in November to give the U.S. Bureau of Land Management broader oversight of coal leasing in the basin to fight climate change.
The group said it’s suing because Interior has not responded.
“Let’s take more of a phased approach,” said Jeremy Nichols, a spokesman for the group. “At least limit the lease acreages and lease tonnages so that we’re not locking ourselves into another 10, 20 years of sustained carbon dioxide emissions.”
Salazar spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff declined comment.
Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said Wyoming coal supplies half of the nation’s electricity.
“It’s important to the nation that these mines continue to operate and these coal plants continue to produce electricity. I think that’s something to keep in mind when people are just trying to delay action and drive up costs,” he said.
The Powder River Basin produced 42 percent of the nation’s coal in 2008, making it the top coal region by far. Most of the coal was produced in northeast Wyoming, although the basin also extends into southeast Montana.
The coal accounts for nearly 14 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions when it is burned in power plants, according to the BLM.
WildEarth Guardians petitioned to recertify the region as an official “coal production region,” a regulatory classification that would widen BLM authority over coal leasing.
Currently, coal companies expand their mines by applying to the BLM to lease coal reserves next to the mines.
“By and large, they’re accepting what the coal companies apply for,” Nichols said.
Under the coal production region classification, the BLM would decide the boundaries of coal leases and the amounts of coal to be leased. Coal companies would abide by those terms in bidding for the leases.
The BLM could consider climate change in deciding the scope of the leases, Nichols said.
The Powder River Basin hasn’t been classified as a coal production region since 1990. No coal-producing region has: The basin was the last region to lose the classification amid a nationwide reduction of coal leasing regulation.
Nichols suggested that more BLM oversight of leasing could open up competition for Powder River Basin leases. Loomis doubted that.
Loomis also questioned any notion of less oversight of coal leasing in the past 20 years.
“The process is time-consuming and expensive now. I don’t think it got any easier particularly,” he said.