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

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

WELC is working with our partners toward the goal of keeping 11 billion tons of Powder River Basin coal in the ground. As we hurdle toward the point of no return on climate, the federal Bureau of Land Management attempted to make available billions of tons of fossil fuels on our public lands. The BLM’s 2015 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 kept open more than 2 million acres for coal leasing, on which the agency projected about 11 billion tons of coal would be developed in the next 20 years. The plans also authorized 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 were all identical with respect to coal and the Buffalo RMP involved 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.

We successfully argued 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, keeping that coal in the ground for now. As a result of our action, the BLM deferred its planned summer oil and gas lease sale representing 100,000 acres of public land and mineral rights. 

Unfortunately, BLM put forth a revised plan that is out of line with the court order in our 2018 victory. We’re back in court to force the agency to follow the law.

This case highlights how slow change comes to agencies. The science now shows not only that coal mining in the PRB is extremely destructive to the environment, climate, and human health, but also that it causes much more economic harm than good. Through this litigation, we are trying to press BLM to recognize this reality and plan for a transition for this region.


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