Monday, August 15, 2016

If the US Took Its Climate Goals Seriously, Coal Beneath Federal Land Would Stay There - Updated by David Roberts

Coal Mining (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
In January, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell put an immediate moratorium on all new leasing of coal from federal land.

Coal from public land represents about 40 percent of US coal supply, but critics have long charged that it’s being leased to private developers for too cheap, at a rate that does not account for its current market price or its impact on climate change.  The "programmatic review" is intended, in part, to make sure taxpayers get their money’s worth.

The public comment period on the review has just ended.  As expected, environmentalists flooded the Department of the Interior with hundreds of thousands of comments supporting the moratorium; the usual suspects (Republicans and the coal industry) are opposed.

We’ll have to wait to see what the results of the review are — a draft report is expected later this year, with another opportunity for public comment — but in the meantime, it’s worth taking a step back and asking a simple question.

In a climate-constrained world, there’s not much room for coal
The US, along with the other major nations of the world, has agreed to a simple climate target:  Restrain global average temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

That target is very, very ambitious.  It would mean rapid, aggressive decarbonization in every country in the world, especially developed nations like the US.

So here’s our simple question:  What would it mean for coal on public land?  How much coal could the feds lease if they were serious about the 2 degree target?

Green billionaire Tom Steyer’s climate advocacy group, NextGen Climate America, got curious about this, so it asked research outfit Carbon Tracker to look into it.  The resulting report was just released.

The answer to the simple question?  None.  Zilch.  Zero.

If the US government were serious about the 2 degree target, the moratorium on coal leasing would be total and permanent.  No new leases.

What’s more, a lot of the coal that’s already been leased from public land would have to go unmined and unburned.  Limiting temperature to 2 degrees entails such a steep decline in coal that we would have to stop burning it entirely before the coal now leased is even fully mined.

The US carbon budget has very little room left for coal
The study design was pretty simple.  Carbon Tracker looked at the demand profile for coal in the International Energy Agency’s 2 degree scenario — a model of the fossil fuel phase-down necessary for a reasonable chance of avoiding 2 degrees.

Then it looked at the supply forecast for Powder River Basin coal from Wyoming and Montana (which comprises about 90 percent of federally leased coal).

The conclusion:
Demand for coal over the period is found to be far outweighed by supply from existing leases alone, meaning that no new federal acreage in the Powder River Basin is required to be leased by the Federal government through the end of our assessment period in 2040.
To put it more plainly:  Under a 2 degree scenario, all the coal that the US will ever be allowed to burn has already been leased.

Read more at If the US Took Its Climate Goals Seriously, Coal Beneath Federal Land Would Stay There

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