21 groups call for moratorium on Powder River coal in letter to new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell

April 15, 2013

The Black Thunder Coal Mine near Wright. Arch Coal says Black Thunder is the largest single coal mining complex in the world and the first coal mine in the world to ship 1 billion tons. It operates with six draglines, 22 shovels, and 148 haul trucks. The mine opened in 1977 and for many years was the largest single coal operation in the world. It is also the first coal mine in the world to transport one billion tons of coal. The operation supplies over 10% of the total US coal production. In 2004, Black Thunder became the first coal mine in the US to ship a cumulative 1,000Mst (907Mt) over its 27-year life to date. Since its opening, the mine has produced and delivered around 2.2 billion tons of coal.

© Greenpeace / Tim Aubry

[caption id="attachment_17127" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="The federal coal program overseen by the Department of Interior is undermining President Obamas climate commitment"][/caption]

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.

Todays 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 Obamas 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 Obamas most significant climate achievements.

In addition to the enormous amounts of carbon pollution, the Department of Interiors coal giveaways amount to a massive fossil fuel subsidy. As Kelly Mitchell wrote last week, A federal coal leasing program run by DOIs 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 its worth.

The Government Accountability Office and the Department of Interiors 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 voiceand help stop this giveaway to the coal companies.

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