WildEarth Guardians issued a May 29 statement criticizing plans by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to auction that day 3,155 acres of coal reserves in Rio Blanco and Moffat counties, Colo., to a unit of Deseret Power Electric Cooperative.
The lease sale was asked for by Blue Mountain Energy as an additional reserve for its 7,000-acre Deserado longwall mine, which is located seven miles northeast of Rangely, Colo., and currently employs 164 people. The 3,155-acre tract holds roughly 21.3 million tons of coal.
WildEarth Guardians and Greenpeace said the lease sale contradicts the nation’s climate change goals and runs counter to clean air. The groups said they planned 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.”
The Deserado mine is the sole fuel source for Deseret’s 500-MW Bonanza power plant, located 30 miles west in northeastern Utah. The power plant, which gets this coal via dedicated rail line, emits 4.5 million metric tons of CO2 every year, the groups said. 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 environmental groups claimed.
BLM announced later in the day on May 29 that it has leased the tract for $6.39m to winning bidder Blue Mountain Energy.
Environmentalists want broader revamp of BLM coal leasing program
This leasing action comes on the heels of recent calls by over 135,000 people, as well as national, regional, and local groups, for new Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to reform BLM’s coal leasing program and to account for the greenhouse gas emissions from burning that coal.
Most coal production in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, by far the nation’s leading coal basin, is from reserves leased through the BLM. That is also the case for coal mines in Utah and Colorado, like Deserado.
In an April letter, WildEarth Guardians, Greenpeace, and others called on Jewell to institute a coal leasing moratorium until the Interior Dept. 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.”
WildEarth Guardians has challenged BLM’s decision to offer the Deserado lease at the Interior Board of Land Appeals.
The federal coal reserves offered consist of all reserves recoverable by underground mining methods in a 3,154.76-acre area. The tracts contain an estimated 21.3 million tons of recoverable coal reserves. The underground minable coal is ranked as C bituminous coal. The estimated coal quality on an as-received basis for the tracts includes: 8,000-10,600 Btu/lb; volatile matter of 23.8%-35.93%; moisture of 10%-15.0%; sulfur content of 0.3%-0.95%; and ash content of 7%-20%.
U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows that Deserado produced 1.7 million tons in 2012 and 2 million tons in 2011.