Microsoft co-founder sues feds over coal lease program

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen is suing the federal government over the environmental impacts of its coal-leasing program.

Allen said Tuesday that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hasn’t properly studied the effect of greenhouse gases caused by the coal rights it leases.

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More than 40 percent of the coal mined in the United States comes from BLM land, but the agency has not studied the environmental impacts since 1979, Allen said.

Allen is now a philanthropist and owner of the Seattle Seahawks football team and and the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team. He filed the lawsuit along with Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

He says BLM’s fees to coal companies do not pay for the environmental harm of the coal that is produced.

“The leasing of coal from federal lands undermines President Obama's climate policy goals,” Allen wrote Tuesday in the Huffington Post. “We have no comprehensive understanding of the air pollution and climate impact of the federal coal-leasing program because the Bureau of Land Management has failed to analyze the available data for more than three decades.”

The lawsuit, filed in the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to force a new environmental impact study of the coal program.

“Such a review should consider alternative policies that would address the full environmental effects of the federal coal-leasing program,” Allen said. “This is a necessary step to wean us off fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources over the next several decades.”

BLM’s coal program has come under intense scrutiny recently by environmentalists and others who say that it undercharges coal mining companies, especially considering the environmental impact of the minerals, most of which are exported.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) demanded in September that BLM halt the program until it is reformed.

That followed a report earlier this year from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found that BLM’s lease program rules were out of date and the agency did not know how to properly price leases.

BLM has said it is working to improve the program, taking the GAO report and other criticisms into account.