Sierra Club slams BLM for putting no limits on coal leasing in the Wyoming PRB

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in Wyoming took a step backwards on May 28 by releasing a resource management plan for the Powder River Basin that remains vastly out of step with the nation’s climate action priorities while allowing coal companies to continue profiting unfairly on taxpayer-owned coal, said the Sierra Club.

The Buffalo Field Office Resource Management Plan authorizes up to 10 billion tons of coal development and thousands of new fracking wells and oil and gas wells without regard for their harmful effects on Wyoming’s air and water quality or wildlife population, the club said.

Connie Wilbert of the Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter said: “The BLM’s Buffalo management plan is bad business-as-usual that completely disregards our nation’s efforts to protect communities from the financial costs of climate change. We need to keep more dirty coal in the ground if the U.S. is serious about meeting carbon reduction goals and protecting communities. It is time for the BLM to modernize its leasing program. Secretary Jewell has publicly expressed her desire to hold an ‘honest and open conversation’ about reforming the federal coal program. We are still waiting for that conversation to begin.”

Powder River Basin coal fuels more than 230 power plants in 35 states, linking it to 13% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and making it a prime contributor to climate disruption, the club said. The nation’s largest coal mines are in the Wyoming end of the PRB, including Peabody Energy’s (NYSE: BTU) North Antelope Rochelle operation and the Black Thunder mine of Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI).

The Sierra Club noted that U.S. power generators in recent years have agreed to retire 190 coal plants, about one-fourth of the nation’s total coal-fired power capacity. “Global markets are also in decline, and massive community movements have already defeated 4 of 6 proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest,” the club added. “This week, major supplier Arch Coal slumped to $0.51 per share after the New York Stock Exchange notified them that they were out of compliance with basic $1 per share minimum requirements for listed companies.”

Arch Coal had announced on May 22 that it received notice the prior day from the New York Stock Exchange that it does not presently satisfy the NYSE’s continued listing standard requiring the average closing price of a listed company’s common stock to be at least $1.00 per share for any period of 30 consecutive trading days. The company said it was working to fix the problem.

Said the May 28 draft resource plan from BLM: “The BLM edited the Proposed RMP and Final EIS to clarify that no coal leasing allocation decisions are being made through the RMP revision. The coal leasing decisions made in the 2001 RMP update are being carried forward as no substantial new information regarding coal leasing was received during the call for coal information during RMP scoping or through comments on the Draft RMP and EIS. Federal coal lands identified in 2001 as acceptable for further coal leasing consideration are available for Lease by Application, lease modifications, emergency leases, and exchanges.

“Prior to offering a coal tract for sale, the unsuitability criteria will be reviewed, a tract specific National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis will be completed, and there will be opportunity for public comment. Federal coal lands acceptable for further leasing consideration do not overlap with Greater Sage-Grouse priority habitat (Maps 11 and 40). Management action Coal-2001 was revised to clarify that the leasing decisions from 2001 are being carried forward and management action Coal-2003 was deleted from the Proposed RMP and Final EIS. Management action Coal-2002 was revised to clarify coal and fluids management within the areas identified acceptable for further coal leasing consideration.”

BLM is taking public comment on this draft plan for 30 days beginning May 29.

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.