Enviro groups sue BLM to get climate change included in coal leasing program

Environmental groups including Friends of the Earth on Nov. 25 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to require the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) for the federal coal leasing program. 

There has not been a comprehensive environmental review of the federal coal leasing program since 1979, the groups said. Since that time, scientific evidence has established that greenhouse gases produced by coal mining and combustion endanger the public health and welfare, they said. The BLM, however, has never analyzed the coal leasing program’s impact on climate change. The complaint argues that the results of this analysis will compel the BLM to deliver on its legal obligation to promote environmentally responsible management of public lands on behalf of the citizens of the United States.

“There is an inconsistency between the President’s declared policy on global warming and the coal leasing policy of the BLM,” said Ben Schreiber, climate and energy program director, Friends of the Earth. “The lawsuit is saying, under the law, the BLM must provide an updated programmatic environmental impact statement that examines the contribution of mining and combustion of BLM coal to climate change and consider alternative energy policy options that would help reduce global warming.”

“More than 40 percent of all the coal mined in the United States is owned by U.S. taxpayers, yet the BLM has not fulfilled its obligation to manage these resources responsibly,” said Dune Ives, co-manager of plaintiff Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. “The American people should not have to go to court to get the government to do its job, but we need to do what’s necessary to protect our lands for future generations.”

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the BLM has a responsibility to supplement a programmatic environmental study whenever significant new information bearing on the program’s environmental impact emerges. The scientific understanding of the causes and effects of climate change, and the role of coal and other fossil fuels, has advanced significantly over the past three decades, the plaintiffs said.

Much of the coal mined in the western U.S. is from reserves leased from BLM, including most of the coal in the highly-prolific Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.