Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gap Seen Between Federal Climate Policy, Coal Leasing

A coal mine in Wyoming. (Credit: Kimon Berlin/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
At a time when climate scientists are warning with increasing urgency that many fossil fuel resources must be left in the ground, the federal government is leasing publicly-owned land and minerals for coal mining at an increasing rate, especially in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.  It’s happening even as the White House finalizes the Clean Power Plan, which will regulate coal-fired power plant emissions, and the president prepares to travel to Paris, where he will pledge to slash the United States’ carbon emissions to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

That dichotomy has scientists concerned that the U.S. may be unable to meet its climate goal, especially without both a price on carbon and a comprehensive climate, environmental and economic policy that can allow the U.S. to show leadership in Paris, Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said.

“Of course, this is not feasible given our current government and the conflicts that exist, and so what should be a manageable problem instead puts us at huge risk, especially for future generations,” he said.

Publicly-owned land managed by the federal government in the West is the source of about 40 percent of all the coal produced in the U.S., and the power plants burning that coal are the nation’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions driving climate change.

Environmental groups have sued the federal government, saying that coal being mined from public lands is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions and demanding that the government account for how coal produced on land it manages affects climate change.

“The federal leasing program has a huge climate impact,” said Marissa Knodel, a climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, one of the groups that has sued the Obama administration.  “It’s a really great opportunity for the Obama administration to make good on current (greenhouse gas) reduction pledges.”

Open for Business
If it is finalized and survives court challenges, the Clean Power Plan, which would regulate emissions from existing electric power plants, is expected to accelerate the closure of coal-fired power plants and send coal production into a free fall.  Coal produced in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado could decline 34 percent by 2024 under the Clean Power Plan, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration analysis.

Despite those predictions, the federal government has made no moves to reduce the amount of land it manages that is open to coal mining.  Though coal leasing has declined sharply on federal lands over the last 30 years, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages the federal mineral estate and most public lands in the West, auctioned off more land in 2013 than it did in 2000.  Coal leasing reached a 13 year peak in 2012, when the bureau auctioned more than 483,000 acres of land containing federally-owned minerals for coal mining, more than it had auctioned off in any year since 1999.

Read more at Gap Seen Between Federal Climate Policy, Coal Leasing

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