Enviro groups sue BLM over Powder River Basin leases

by Manuel Quinones, E&E reporter

Reprinted with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. Not for republication by Wyoming media.

Environmentalists have filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in an effort to stop the mining of roughly 350 million tons of federal coal in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

Related Story: Feds OK Powder River Basin coal leases

WildEarth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club say the Obama administration has failed to give adequate weight to air pollution and global warming concerns when it approved the leasing of two large tracts — the 1,671-acre Belle Ayr North and 1,023-acre Caballo West, both in Campbell County.

“This is yet another blow to a clean energy future,” Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth climate and energy program director, said in a statement. “This country needs solutions that safeguard our clean air and climate, not more dirty energy development. Sadly, by opening the door for massive new coal mining plans, the Interior Department seems to be sabotaging solutions.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees BLM, has defended the leases, saying they conform to an energy agenda that seeks to take advantage of a wide range of power sources. The groups filed their complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Despite the litigation, BLM is proceeding with lease sales. Last month, Peabody Energy Corp. outbid Alpha Natural Resources Inc. for the Belle Ayr North tract. BLM said Peabody submitted a successful bid of $210 million for control of the tract, roughly $37 million more than Alpha.

The Caballo West tract was scheduled to be offered for competitive bid yesterday. Peabody asked BLM to lease land to extend the life of its Caballo Mine, which shipped 23.5 million tons of coal last year.

Lawsuits are also pending against BLM for moving forward with leasing the so-called West Antelope II coal tracts in Campbell and Converse counties and refusing to recertify the Powder River Basin as an official coal producing region.

Environmentalists say the 1990 decertification gives coal companies more leeway in drawing their own parcel boundaries and requesting that they be offered for competitive leasing in a process known as “lease by application,” usually to extend the life of current mines.

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