Keeping 11 Billion Tons of Powder River Basin Coal in the Ground

While we approach the point of no return on climate, the federal Bureau of Land Management is making available billions of tons of fossil fuels on our public lands. The BLM’s recently approved resource management plans and environmental impact statements in Wyoming and Montana exemplify this disconnect to the extreme.

The BLM’s Miles City (Montana) and Buffalo (Wyoming) RMPs keep open more than 2 million acres for coal leasing, on which the agency projects about 11 billion tons of coal would be developed in the next 20 years. The plans also authorize millions of acres for oil and gas leasing, with BLM projecting that 18,000 wells will be drilled over the 20-year planning horizons.

While BLM is required to offer alternatives to this coal development, the Miles City RMP’s five options are all identical with respect to coal and the Buffalo RMP involves only cosmetic differences with respect to coal.

We asked BLM to consider the indirect impacts of combustion emissions from both coal and oil and gas in the Buffalo and Miles City RMPs. In both RMPs, BLM acknowledged that fossil fuels would be combusted, but failed to address the impacts to air and water from this combustion and failed to incorporate downstream emissions in a social cost of carbon calculation.

We’re arguing in court for a more detailed analysis of alternatives to this billion-ton coal portfolio and a deeper study of the environmental impact the projects would have on the Powder River Basin and the climate.