Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it will issue dozens of coal leases that could open up mining of 10 billion tons of coal over the next two decades, reported ThinkProgress.
“It’s a huge amount, especially because the leasing period is the time frame that the world needs to get a handle on carbon emissions,” said Shannon Anderson of the environmental nonprofit Powder River Basin Council.
The BLM’s proposed plan includes 28 new mining leases managed by the Buffalo Field Office and the Wyoming office, which will oversee the Powder River Basin. According to Greenpeace, burning the 10 billion tons of newly-available coal would release 16.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
In that scenario, any progress made because of Obama’s carbon emission reduction plan would be affected.
“When you look at the emissions from the Buffalo regional management plan, it’s an off-the-chart, massive amount of carbon pollution,” said Greenpeace media officer Joe Smyth. “These actions by the BLM are still operating under business-as-usual approach, and really ignoring the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution.”
Anderson says that these new mining leases won’t flood the market with more coal, but they will keep a consistent supply of coal over the next 20 years. The fact remains, however, that there will be 10 billion tons of extra coal available that could potentially negate any future environmental progress.
Environmentalists argue that the federal government has been subsidizing coal from public lands because energy companies receive the coal at below-market prices. According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the federal government misses out on approximately $1 billion in revenue annually due to underpriced coal.
“It’s not just that they’re allowing this coal to be leased, it’s that they’re giving it away for such low prices,” said Smyth. “It’s favoring coal at the expense of better and cleaner alternatives.”
The BLM is on the verge of a massive mistake. The bureau looks to open up coal mining, which would be detrimental to the environment in the face of emerging pro-environmental initiatives. Not to mention, the government is subsidizing coal companies with good deals on cheap coal.