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Groups Challenge New Coal Leases on Public Lands

Scientists have called on the United States to stop new coal leasing to help prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. (Ecoflight)
Scientists have called on the United States to stop new coal leasing to help prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. (Ecoflight)
July 23, 2020

SHERIDAN, Wyo. - A coalition including the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, conservation organizations and states launched a new challenge this week against the Trump administration's move to open millions of acres of public lands for new coal leasing and mining.

Connie Wilbert, director of the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club, says the administration is doubling down on coal after a federal court blocked its efforts last year.

"The Trump administration seems intent on burying its head in the sand and pretending everything is fine," says Wilbert. "But you can't avoid the coronavirus by not testing people, and you can't solve the climate crisis by ignoring the impact of burning fossil fuels."

The complaint filed in a Great Falls court challenges the Trump administration's claims that strip mining does not harm the environment, citing research showing that coal production on federal lands is responsible for 10% of all U.S. climate pollution.

The Trump administration has defended its move to end a moratorium on federal coal, established in 2016, in order to achieve what it calls energy dominance.

Wilbert says the coal industry is no longer economically viable, largely because of cheaper renewable sources including wind and solar. She says what government should be focused on is creating a path for workers to transition to clean-energy jobs, to protect local economies that went all in on fossil fuels.

Wilbert says allowing massive strip-mining projects on 570 million acres is not a balanced way to manage publicly owned resources.

"Public lands are a shared national treasure that should be used to benefit all Americans,," says Wilbert, "not to prop up a dying coal industry."

The coalition notes there also would be serious negative public health impacts if the nation's coal reserves, estimated at some 255 billion tons, are burned to generate electricity.

In addition to long-term climate impacts, mining and burning coal releases toxic emissions including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and mercury.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, Wyoming Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY