Greenpeace calls for halt to federal coal leasing

A report released Monday by Greenpeace said that the environmental harm from the federal government’s coal leasing program dwarfs the fees that mining companies pay, and called for a moratorium on the leases.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leases mining rights on federal property to private companies. The program has generated 2.2 billion tons of coal during the Obama administration alone.

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Each ton of coal from the program costs $22 to $237 in environmental damage, Greenpeace said, a total based upon the federal government’s estimates of the social cost of carbon. But during the Obama administration, BLM has effectively sold the coal for $1.03 a ton.

“The federal coal leasing program is undermining efforts to address climate change by selling our coal at subsidized rates,” Kelly Mitchell, director of Greenpeace’s energy program, said in a statement.

“Instead of giving away our coal for one dollar a ton, Interior Secretary [Sally] Jewell should establish a moratorium on new coal leases and pursue comprehensive reform of the federal coal leasing program.”

Based on the social cost of carbon estimates, Greenpeace said leased coal during the Obama administration will cost society between $52 billion and $530 billion, but BLM charged only $2.3 billion.

Furthermore, BLM does not consider the fact that a large portion of the coal ends up being exported and burned in other countries, which the group said undermines Obama’s goals to reduce emissions worldwide.

Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said BLM is actively working to reform the coal leasing program and ensure it correctly values the costs of coal.

“The BLM remains fully committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive a fair return from the development of coal resources on public lands and is actively strengthening the BLM coal leasing program,” she said.

Kershaw also said BLM is committed to “safe and responsible development of both traditional and renewable energy resources on public lands.”

Greenpeace released its report two days before BLM considers a lease in Colorado that would produce 8 million tons of coal that it said is likely to be exported.

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