Uncle Sam Bends Over for Big Coal

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Truckling to Big Coal, the federal government refuses to designate the Powder River Basin a “coal production region,” though 42 percent of U.S. coal is mined there, environmentalists say. Uncle Sam is giving the coal away at rock-bottom prices and letting private industry write its own ticket, avoid competitive leasing and duck environmental laws, WildEarth Guardians claims in Federal Court.

     Due to the Bureau of Land Management’s absurd giveaways to private industry, in the past 20 years “there have been only three sales where more than one company has bid on a coal lease” in the Powder River Basin – covering 50,000 acres and 5.8 billion tons of coal, according to the complaint.
     Coal mining in the Powder River Basin in 2007, and the subsequent burning of that coal, released nearly 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide: 13 percent of the CO2 emissions in the United States and 2.4 percent of global CO2 emissions, according to the complaint.
     “Amazingly, however, Defendants Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Bob Abbey have failed to certify the Powder River Basin as a ‘Coal Production Region’ under their own regulations for the sale of coal from federal lands.
     “Thus, because the Powder River Basin is currently not certificated as a Coal Production Region, the BLM can avoid using its competitive leasing system. Rather, the BLM can and does use the ‘Lease by Application’ process, which is really only meant for ‘where an emergency need for unleased coal deposits is demonstrated, or in areas outside coal production regions[.]’ 43 C.F.R.3 425.0-2. This has severely diminished competition for the sale of this coal. For example, in the last 20 years, the BLM has offered 21 ‘Leases by Application’ for sale in the Powder River Basin totaling nearly 50,000 acres and more than 5.8 billion tons of coal. During this time, there have been only three sales where more than one company has bid on a coal lease.”
The Powder River Basin, 24,000 square miles in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana, “is the single largest source of coal in the United States,” according to the complaint. “In 2008, 42 percent of all coal produced in the United States came from the Powder River Basin.”
The area was designated a Coal Production Region in 1979, but the George H.W. Bush administration killed the certification in 1990, according to the complaint.
     Since then, WildEarth Guardians says, 21 leases were granted under the “lease by application” process.
     This allows coal companies to delineate their own parcels, and avoid competitive bidding and analysis of regional impacts.
     Competitive leasing, which WildEarth Guardians demands, would establish a cap on coal production and allow for public input on the impacts of coal mining.
     The Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management are preparing to give away another 5.8 billion tons of coal there – as much as was doled out in the past 20 years – which could release up to 10.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, WildEarth claims.
The group says the defendants have ignored a petition to recertify the area as a coal production region, and address the impacts of carbon dioxide release on climate change, and to require companies to pay carbon fees. It wants the government ordered to do those things.
WildEarth Guardians is represented by Robert Ukeiley of Berea, Ky.

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