Last week, the administration of President Barack Obama quietly opened more than 100,000 acres of public lands to coal mining, infuriating local residents who say the vast carbon footprint of this decision makes a "mockery of the President’s touted climate change initiatives."
The Buffalo Field Office of U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is overseen by the Department of the Interior, on May 28 released a regional management plan for a Wyoming stretch of the Powder River Basin. This basin is the largest coal-producing area of the United States, with most mining already occurring on federal property through the government's controversial leasing program.
The new plan, which requires a "30-day protest period and the 60-day Wyoming Governor's Consistency Review" before being signed into law, would open up the basin even further to the fossil fuel industry.
According to the BLM's own estimates, over the next 20 years it will issue 28 new leases to drill approximately 10.2 billion tons of coal on 106,400 acres of federal land.
The amount of carbon emissions from this coal would be staggering.
According to the calculations of Greenpeace, if all of this coal is burned, 16.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere. The organization says this is far more than the "the 5.3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution expected to be avoided" by the Obama administration's flagship Clean Power Plan between 2020 and 2030.
Immediately following the announcement, the BLM was accused by members of the advocacy organization Powder River Basin Resource Council of caving to the powerful fossil fuel industry.
"This proposal has opened even further the flood gates of extensive fossil fuel development and has relaxed existing protections for ensuring our land, air, water and wildlife are used wisely and conservatively," Gillian Malone, chair of the group, declared late last month. "On a broader scale, the proposed plan maximizes fossil fuel production, making a mockery of the President’s touted climate change initiatives."
Shannon Anderson, an organizer with the group, emphasized to Common Dreams that the plan is not a shift in direction, but rather, "affirms the current status quo. The powder River Basin is already open."