Dirty St. Louis Coal Plant to be Retired

July 18, 2014

Meramec-plant-to-retire

The Sierra Club's Missouri Beyond Coal campaign achieved a prized goal this month when Ameren Energy announced that it would phase out its 923-megawatt Meramec coal-fired power plant in St. Louis County by 2022, with an option to retire the plant even sooner.

Meramec-plant-to-retire

The announcement comes after years of advocacy from the Beyond Coal campaign, local citizens, the Club's Missouri Chapter, and allied health and environmental groups to retire the outdated 61-year-old coal plant and invest in clean energy. Below, the plant's four smokestacks loom behind a residential neighborhood in south St. Louis County.

Meramec-coal-plant

"If you've ever been to one of our Missouri planning meetings, you know that we often repeat for each other during tough times… 'be patient, we have to stick with this for the long haul,'" says Holly Bender, associate regional director for Beyond Coal. "Today, the patience and relentless advocacy paid off."

Meramec-plant-to-retire

For the past several years the Sierra Club has urged the Missouri Public Services Commission to adopt an integrated resource plan and made the case that retiring the Meramec plant is the most prudent path forward in light of new carbon pollution regulations and changing market conditions.

Meramac-plant-to-retire

The Club has steadfastly called for reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions at three St. Louis-area coal plants, demanded groundwater monitoring at coal ash sites, and urged local elected officials to be leaders in taking a stand against coal pollution in St. Louis County. Last year the Club revealed Ameren's leaking coal ash ponds across the state and the company's significant contribution to decades of unsafe air quality in St. Louis.

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"This victory is a testament to the patience and perseverance of the Sierra Club team in Missouri and the power of an all-in campaign," Bender says. "In the belly of the beast, and in the hometown of coal's giants, dedicated grassroots engagement, strategic legal work, and a relentless drive to change the public's perception about coal has won the day. We will continue to advocate alongside Meramec-area communities for a retirement date sooner than 2022, and ensure that Ameren finally gets serious about adding clean energy."

Meramec-plant-to-retire

Ameren currently produces 75 percent of its power from coal, and has for a long time joined Arch and Peabody in deeply vesting coal's future in the community. Missouri gets 85 percent of its electricity from coal, and according to the American Council for An Energy-Efficient Economy, the state ranks 43rd nationally in energy efficiency.

Meramec-plant-to-retire

Local elected officials receive generous donations from Ameren, potential clean-energy allies have shied away from fighting against coal due to the company's hefty donations and support of annual galas, and Ameren's public relations machine has successfully convinced citizens in greater St. Louis that it really does care about clean energy -- despite its rating among the Natural Resources Defense Council's "Gang of 8" top polluters lobbying in Washington against clean air and water protections.

Meramec-plant-to-retire

In announcing its decision to phase out coal at Meramec, Ameren said the plant had reached the end of its useful life. The decision comes as Ameren has realized great success saving energy -- and saving its customers money -- through energy-efficiency programs. Ameren previously stated that the power generated by Meramec could be entirely replaced through strong energy-efficiency programs.

Meramec-plant-to-retire

"As a local mother, this announcement could not have come soon enough," says Donna Seidel, a local parent who lives close to the Meramec plant. "Our community is looking forward to collaborating with Ameren and other stakeholders to find a plan to make south St. Louis County an even safer place for our families to live."

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The announcement to phase out the Meramec coal plant represents the 168th coal plant to retire or announce retirement since 2010, cutting nearly 252 million tons of carbon emissions -- the equivalent of 53 million passenger vehicles.

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"After years of dangerous coal pollution, we could use a breath of fresh air from Amaren and some forward-thinking investments in clean energy," says Andy Knott of the Beyond Coal campaign in St. Louis. "As utilities elsewhere in the Midwest continue to grow clean-energy portfolios, Ameren has lagged behind with woefully low investments in readily available and cheap resources like wind, solar, and efficiency, which can create local clean-energy jobs."

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Today, the United States has more than 61,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity and 13,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity -- enough to power the equivalent of 20 million American homes.

Meramec-plant-to-retire

"Communities in south St. Louis have struggled with unsafe air for decades," says St. Louis-based Sierra Club organizer Sara Edgar. "We're ready to work with Ameren on a plan to invest in local clean energy, to build a responsible timeline for transition of its workforce at Meramec, and to move as expeditiously as possible to stop burning coal in St. Louis."

Meramec-coal-plantPhoto courtesy of Simmons Hanly Conroy

Sierra & Tierra: A Monumental Symphony

By Javier Sierra  

When President Obama signed the proclamation to designate the Organ Mountains/Desert Peaks National Monument in May, it was the last stitch of a tapestry to weave together several natural sites of extraordinary beauty and cultural significance.

The monument, located in the Doña Ana County in southern New Mexico, is loaded with enchantment and historic significance, particularly for the Latino community. Just notice the Spanish names of many of these places: Sierra de las Uvas, the Robledo, Potrillo and Doña Ana mountains, and the very Sierra de los Organos (Organ Mountains), named after its resemblance to the musical instrument. Let’s call it a monumental symphony.  

068-Organs-Barrel-Cacti-by-Lisa-Mandelkern
The Organ Mountains, the centerpiece of the monument

For centuries, the ragged peaks of the Organs for centuries witnessed the flow of settlers traveling from Mexico to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos on the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. In the Broad Canyon there is an abundance of petroglyphs, testament of ancestral native cultures. And in the Robledo Mountains dinosaur footprints were petrified millions of years ago.

These natural treasures have been protected in large part due to the activism of Latino leaders.

“Latinos have been working to protect these lands for well over a decade,” says Michael Casaus, New Mexico State Director of the Wilderness Society. “From the very beginning Latino leaders took an active role in shaping the campaign and determining which lands should be protected. Without the contribution of Latino leaders and conservationists the designation would not have happened.”

This Latino activism also ensured that the traditional uses of the land would be permitted in the monument, such as grazing, water rights, hunting, fishing and recreational activities.

“This garnered the support of the local residents, who are mostly Latinos, and ensured that these lands will not be sold to private owners to reduce the national deficit or be turned into mining operations,” says Casaus.

The monument is also getting Latino youth interested in their history and culture and encouraging them to stay in school.

“I lead these kids into the monument to help me compile its cultural inventory,” says Angel Peña, cultural resources specialist of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “We hike around the lands looking for remnants of Hispanics coming through in the 1580’s, we have found evidence of the Camino Real, as well as numerous petroglyphs and other archeological resources.”

The monument has literally changed the lives of these kids.

“Each expedition is a trek of discovery of their culture and past,” says Peña. “They now have a purpose in life. Many of them are interpretative rangers of the Bureau of Land Management. Here there are good jobs that will fill them with pride and satisfaction.”

Unfortunately, there are representatives in Washington, DC, who are adding a sour note to the music. Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Steven Pearce (R-NM) and Jeff Duncan (R-SC) insist that the monument, located by the Mexican border, poses a threat to national security because it creates a gateway for illegal activity, and impedes open access to the Border Patrol and other law enforcement bodies.

Several civic groups, on the other hand, called the representatives’ claims “false” alleging data and statements by the US Customs and Border Security that prove the opposite. The faith-based group NM CAFé, for instance, labeled the statements as “a waste of time and taxpayers’ money” and urged these congressmen to dedicate their time to find “real solutions to the border problems,” including supporting immigration reform.

The establishment of the monument is a brilliant idea. Too bad there are those willing to play out of tune in this monumental symphony.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC

Taking a stand against a proposed coal export terminal in Louisiana

July 17, 2014

Yard Signs

Gretna, La., might be a small city, but the residents are banding together to speak out against a proposed coal export terminal and the increased coal trains that would come with it. In the past month they've packed two community meetings to learn more about the proposed RAM Terminal coal export facility.

Back in June, dozens of people attended a Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition public meeting as a way to kick off the Gretna movement against the facility. The facility itself it planned for Plaquemines Parish, but the rail line serving it bisects Gretna.

The meeting followed weeks of canvassing, phonebanking, and media outreach to publicize the meeting, collect petition signatures, and draw attention to the problems of coal trains rumbling through historic districts and along major commuter highways intersections, said Sierra Club organizer Devin Martin.

"It was a joint effort between the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition," said Martin.

The movement's been making the news as well:

"Gretna has been making a lot of progress, preserving its historic district, renovating its old post office. It seems Gretna is on the upswing,'' said Devin Martin, a Sierra Club organizer who lives just outside Gretna, in neighboring Algiers. "The last thing the city needs is to have that rail line turn into an industrial corridor.''

Q & A

Then on July 9, Gretna residents packed a Gretna City Council meeting to get the chance to testify their concerns about the possibility of coal trains passing through their neighborhoods, with all the attendant health risks, traffic congestion, emergency response times, and economic and quality of life concerns that would rattle the town.

"They gave some of the best, most heartfelt, moving, and powerful statements I've ever witnessed in my four years with the Club," said Martin.

Martin says the weeks since that first June town meeting included some excellent organizing - from tabling at farmer's markets and cafes, to business outreach, and weekly community meetings.

"Our goal was to introduce our presence and show the council that this is a vital issue that cannot be ignored any longer, and that the Mayor and council must take leadership and elevate and amplify the concerns of their constituents to state and federal decision makers," said Martin.

The coalition is asking the Gretna City Council to pass a resolution that would oppose coal trains, as well requesting that the appropriate state and federal agencies involved in the RAM Terminal permitting conduct a full public health, economic, and environmental impact analysis, which has not been done.

"The Council is definitely feeling the heat, and we intend to come back in August with even more residents, business owners, and health professionals to encourage the Council to pass this resolution," said Martin.

"From there, we will work to engage the entire Parish of Jefferson, the most populous parish in Louisiana, to do the same to stop this new coal export terminal that puts so much at risk for so many in one of the most vulnerable regions of the world for climate change and sea level rise."

Welcoming Michael Brune and His Family to Oregon

In case you've missed the news lately, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune and his family are touring some beautiful wilderness sites in the Pacific Northwest in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. This write-up from the Oregon Chapter on the Brune family visit to Waldo Lake is a great one we had to re-post:

Brune familyThe week of July 7 was an exciting one for the Oregon Chapter, as we welcomed national Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune to Oregon for several days. Mike and his family are currently in the midst of a Northwest roadtrip in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. After departing their home in the Bay Area and stopping over for a night in the redwoods of northern California, their first stop in Oregon was at Odell Lake, just down the road from Waldo Lake.

We had a nice gathering of Sierra Club volunteers and staff with Mike and his family (wife Mary, daughters Olivia and Genevieve, and son Sebastian) on Monday evening, enjoying a cookout at a cabin near Crescent Lake. Then on Tuesday morning, the real fun began!

We began the morning with a press conference and briefing on the scenic shore of Waldo Lake about the Sierra Club's Keep Waldo Wild campaign. In addition to Brune and his family and Sierra Club staff and volunteers, we also had a good assemblage of Congressional and Forest Service staffers present. They heard about our exciting plan to protect more than 76,000 acres of forest and wild areas around Waldo, developed in concert with other non-motorized user groups like the Central Oregon Trail Alliance mountain biking organization. We were pleased to be joined by COTA Chairman, Woody Starr, and by Bruce and Brian Johnson, the great-grandsons of Judge John Waldo, for whom the lake is named.

Brune looking at Waldo Lake plansAfter the briefing, we took the Brunes for a fun, 3.5-mile hike around Charlton Lake. Despite the heat and the mosquitoes, Mike's 9 and 5-year-old children did an amazing job on the hike. Then we did a great 5-mile roundtrip mountain biking trek over to Bobby Lake. Mike and his 5-year-old son Sebastian had to turn back about midway through the mountain bike ride, but his 9-year-old daughter Olivia did the entire ride and wanted even more when we were finished!

Click here to read Mike's Huffington Post blog about his visit to Waldo Lake!

Then, on Wednesday, July 9, with the assistance of several members of our Many Rivers Group from Eugene and outdoor writer William Sullivan, we treated Mike and his family to an excellent hike up Mt. June, just outside of Dexter, Oregon. This hike is found in the Hardesty Wildlands area about 25 miles east of Eugene/Springfield, which our Many Rivers Group has been working to protect.

Thursday was another busy day for the Brunes, who had to depart their cabin at Odell Lake early in order for Mike to get to a morning Editorial Board meeting with the Eugene Register-Guard. Then they drove up to Portland for an exciting evening program with a packed room at the Chapter office with former national Sierra Club Executive Director Mike McCloskey, who discussed his great new book, Conserving Oregon's Environment.

Michael Brune and Mike McCloskeyMike Brune also spoke movingly about his road trip and about his desire to preserve wilderness and protect the planet for his (and all of our) kids to enjoy. And then it was off to Seattle for the Brunes, as they continued on to the next leg of their road trip.

It was a great few days with Mike, Mary, Olivia, Sebastian, and Genevieve, and I was honored to be one of the tour guides showing them some of the spectacular areas of our state. Obviously, four days is not nearly enough to really let them see the wonders Oregon has to offer, so we hope they will be back soon. We've got a few hundred other places we'd like to take them to!

Florida Coalition Speaks Out for Clean Energy

July 16, 2014

Florida hearing

Earlier this month more than 130 people joined the Sierra Club Florida-led Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition at a Citizens' Hearing for Clean Energy Solutions to call for greater investments in energy savings and solar power in the state.
 
Sierra Club Florida organizer Julia Hathaway said the Tampa meeting drew people from around the region -- including seven public officials -- to tell the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) to boost energy savings goals, clean air, and clean energy jobs in 2014.

The Sierra Club and the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition held this public hearing because the PSC had denied a request to hold an official hearing in the area. The Florida PSC decides this summer whether to strengthen or weaken state-wide energy efficiency programs.

"We want to create a forum to ensure public participation in the decision making process, which will set the course for the next ten years," says Hathaway.

"At our hearing, after opening statements by some of the elected officials, three expert presentations set a compelling case for why Floridians need to stand up for their own energy future. Then people lined up to testify themselves."
Linda Varonich testifying
A number of groups new to the coalition -- including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters -- also had members attend the hearing. Hathaway says the meeting was a huge success because of how many people got involved. "We saw increased involvement by elected officials, not only in terms of individuals present but also depth of engagement," she explains. "At the end of the evening, County Commissioner Ken Welch, a former Progress Florida employee, took the floor to say that he would press the county commission for greater leadership."

Hathway credits the amazing volunteers with the coalition for this great hearing success.

"In addition to collecting formal comments, this Citizens Hearing served as a ramp-up to the Coalition's Rally for Energy Savings, which will take place during the public hearing at the Public Service Commission on July 21st," she says. "Our coalition is working to fill up the buses!"

The Sierra Club and Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition will hold a rally on Monday, July 21 at 11 AM outside the PSC building in Tallahassee, repeating their call for the PSC to strengthen energy savings goals in 2014.

Walking the Talk in Tucson

July 15, 2014

Cheryl-Walling

By Briana Okyere

Asked why she feels it's important to expose young people to the natural environment and the great outdoors, Tucson elementary school teacher Cheryl Walling, above, responds with a John Muir quote from his 1912 book, The Yosemite:

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

This quote appropriately describes the verve and enthusiasm that Walling brings to her position as an Inner City Outings leader in Tucson.

[Editor's note: On July 1, the name Inner City Outings was officially changed to Inspiring Connections Outdoors.]

Cheryl-Walling

Walling has been a volunteer leader with Tucson ICO for eight years. During that time, she has taken students from across the Tucson Unified School District on outdoor adventures at least once a month -- from short forays into Tucson's nearby nature to Grand Canyon outings to multi-day wilderness backpacking trips.

Cheryl-Walling

Getting out into nature has always been a passion for Walling. Growing up in Illinois and Michigan, she regularly went hiking and camping with her family. "When I became a teacher I noticed that many of my students didn't get to go out in the wilderness," Walling says. Determined to expose her students to the natural environment, she connected with a teacher at her daughter's school, who directed her to the local ICO program.

For Walling, the program means more than just getting her students to connect with nature -- it's about forming a bond with the participants, and bringing that personal element back with her to the classroom. "The kids see me as teacher, but they also see me as something more," she says. "They open up to me on the trips and I learn about them. Then I use the knowledge gained on our trips and connect it to what we're learning about in class."

Cheryl-Walling

Walling goes to great effort to encourage young ICO participants to form a strong and lasting bond with nature. At the end of all the outings she leads, Walling sets aside ten minutes for quiet reflection. "I want the kids to really connect with the wilderness," she says. "Often they say this is one their favorite parts of the trip."

This was the case with a sixth-grader named Anthony, who participated in several of Walling's outings over the years. On his first several trips, the 11-year-old would suffer from panic attacks and constantly have to use his inhaler. "The entire group helped him overcome his fears and his dependence on the inhaler," Walling says.

By the time Anthony was in the eighth grade, he was hiking challenging peaks and extreme terrain and walking the Grand Canyon, all without his inhaler. And upon entering college, he won a scholarship for his writings about his experiences with ICO. "He now helps me as a volunteer leader on my trips," Walling says. "The kids love to hear about his experiences."

Stories like Anthony's motivate Walling to continually push for more funding for Tucson ICO, applying for grants to help fund trips within the school district so that she can lead more frequent outings and make them even more enriching for her students. "Although our program doesn't have a lot of money, we've been able to get grants from some amazing local businesses that have really helped with expenses this last year," she says with obvious pride.

"These trips really change the students and the way they relate to the outdoors," Walling says. Three years ago, Arizona threatened to close multiple state parks due to budget cuts. Incensed, Walling's students wrote letters to the governor, insisting that the parks stay open. "And they did!" she beams.

Cheryl-Walling

Walling and her fellow Tucson ICO volunteers constantly remind young participants in the program that it is their responsibility to maintain and care for the parks and wilderness in their community, but they take pains to impart this message in a way that the students enjoy.

Nothing makes Walling happier than to see a student who is truly inspired by the environment. "I love seeing their faces when they discover a new place and when they realized they have completed a goal," she says.

Learn more about ICO. Find a group near you -- or start your own.

Briana Okyere is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.

Inspiring Connections Outdoors

July 11, 2014

ICO

By Stacy Bare, Sierra Club Outdoors Director

Please join us in our excitement over a new name for our beloved ICO program. As of July 1, we are no longer Inner City Outings. We are Sierra Club Inspiring Connections Outdoors.

ICO

The acronym ICO and the mission -- to provide opportunities for people (especially youth) with limited access to the outdoors to safely explore, enjoy and project the natural world -- remain the same. We have 55 ICO groups in cities and towns across America going outdoors with 14,000 participants each year. And that number grows every year thanks to our dedicated volunteers and the growing nationwide movement to (re)connect with nature.

ICO

So why change the name?

ICO

There's a lot of familiarity with ICO, our long-standing moniker and acronym, and for many people, "InnerCityOutings" runs together as one word and quickly encapsulates the pride we all have in the tremendous work this program has done.

ICO

However, to some people the words "Inner City" have negative connotations, and have been a barrier to deeper engagement on the part of many participants, volunteers, would-be volunteers, donors, and agency partners.

ICO

Additionally, the term "Inner City" does not fully represent the geographic areas our program serves, which include rural and suburban neighborhoods and, frankly, anywhere Sierra Club leaders want to go outdoors with people who may not otherwise have easy access to the outdoors. "Inner City" is a term of the past. And ultimately, these were sufficiently compelling reasons to change the name.

ICO

To quote one of our San Francisco Bay Area volunteers, "We are in the business of empowering others, encouraging others, connecting with others, and -- dare I say it -- inspiring others."

ICO

We are excited about this next step in the future of Sierra Club Inspiring Connections Outdoors. Last year we grew by 20 percent, and we are working hard to double the number of participants getting outdoors with the Sierra Club nationwide by 2020.

ICO

Inner City Outings has served the Sierra Club -- and all who participated in the program -- well. Now ICO moves onward and upward with a new name that better encapsulates the full spectrum of people ICO seeks to reach.

ICO

Want to get involved? Find an ICO group near you -- or start one of your own!

Clean Energy Victory in New York

July 09, 2014

16707.1This week the New York Public Service Commission announced that it will require the state to invest in more clean energy as part of its renewable portfolio standard -- and all thanks to action from the Sierra Club and nine other groups.

New York had been lagging behind in its progress to meet its renewable portfolio standard -- NY must obtain 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015 -- so the Sierra Club and these nine other groups took action. In December 2013, the Sierra Club, along with Alliance for Clean Energy New York, Inc, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates of New York, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York League of Conservation Voters, New York Public Interest Research Group, Pace Energy And Climate Center, Renewable Energy Long Island, and the Vote Solar Initiative, submitted a petition to the New York Public Service Commission seeking changes to the method by which the state engages in large-scale procurement of renewable energy resources.

Last week, the Club's efforts were rewarded with an order by the commission adopting the Sierra Club's core recommendation and requiring additional renewable procurement solicitations in 2014 and 2015. These solicitations should produce hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and environmental benefits for New Yorkers -- creating jobs and stimulating investment while also reducing emissions and New York’s dependency on fossil fuels.  

The primary mechanism for procuring large-scale renewable generation is through contracts between the state and developers for renewable energy credits (RECs).  Traditionally, these contracts have been limited to ten years. In the past, the ten-year REC contracts provided developers with sufficient certainty to obtain financing for their projects.  Indeed, analysis of the RPS program as recently as 2013 showed that early solicitations were highly successful, with benefits to the state significantly outweighing costs -- every $1 spent on the RPS generated $3 of direct investment in New York.

More recently, however, inconsistency by the state in the timing of project solicitations, as well as more attractive contracting structures in other states, made New York a less favorable place for renewable developers to site projects. As a result, progress toward New York's RPS goals slowed markedly.  

To help address the uncertainties in the solicitation process and provide renewable energy developers the contracting flexibility required to finance projects, the Sierra Club coordinated with a broad range of organizations on a petition to the Public Service Commission to remedy the shortcomings of the RPS.  

The petition made the case for more regular project solicitations by the state as well as for increased contract flexibility to help bring renewable energy developers back to New York State. The commission's order, released last week, broadly adopted the Sierra Club's requests.  The commission required that the state engage in two large-scale renewable project solicitations between now and the end of 2015, one in each calendar year.

This is great news for New Yorkers, and we look forward to seeing the continued expansion of clean energy in the Empire State.

-- Joshua Berman, Sierra Club Staff Attorney

Sierra Club Victory in Colorado a Rebuke Against Coal Leasing

July 08, 2014

In a victory for wild lands and our climate, U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson last week rejected Arch Coal's plans to bulldoze six miles of roads through 1,700 acres of Colorado's wild and natural Sunset Roadless Area in order to expand its underground West Elk coal mine.

While the decision is an enormous victory for protecting these precious wild lands and halts Arch Coal's coal mining plans for now, Judge Jackson's ruling also represents the first time that a coal mine has been rejected because of the failure to adequately consider and disclose the impacts that a mine would have on climate disruption.

Coalmine

Sunset Trails Roadless Area in Colorado. Photo courtesy of WildEarth Guardians.

The landmark decision, affirming a challenge brought by the Sierra Club and allies at Earthjustice, WildEarth Guardians, and High Country Conservation Advocates, could have far-reaching implications for protecting our climate from the threat of mining and burning of coal, natural gas, tar sands, and other fossil fuels.

In addition to building on the Sierra Club's recent successes establishing legal standing to raise climate arguments (1) and telling the agencies that they cannot simply ignore the Social Cost of Carbon when weighing the impacts of coal leasing, Judge Jackson squarely rejected the notion that massive coal mines would have no impact on our climate.

For years, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has used tortured economic logic to mask its willful ignorance of the tremendous harm done to our climate and people through federal leasing of more than five billions of tons of coal.

Spoiler alert: There's a direct connection between BLM's federal coal leasing program and the amount of carbon pollution disrupting our climate. Coal that's mined from federal lands is burned in coal-fired power plants; coal-fired power plants emit carbon pollution; and carbon pollution warms our planet and contributes to increasingly destructive weather events and other consequences of climate disruption (2).

Judge Jackson's ruling exposes the bogus economic assumptions underlying nearly all of BLM's coal leasing decisions, and it will help hold BLM accountable for the climate impacts of other decisions on coal and fossil fuel extraction. BLM continues to claim that if it were to deny a coal lease, that same amount of coal would just get mined from someplace else. The result, according to BLM, would be the same amount of coal mined, the same amount of coal burned, and the same amount of carbon pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants. And if the impacts to climate are the same no matter what, why deny a coal lease?

As recognized by Judge Jackson, that logic ignores basic principles of supply and demand. After summarizing BLM's economic assumption, Judge Jackson debunked it, stating:

"The production of coal in the North Fork exemption will increase the supply of cheap, low-sulfur coal. At some point this additional supply will impact the demand for coal relative to other fuel sources, and coal that would otherwise have been left in the ground will be burned." (Slip op. at 30) (emphasis added).

Judge Jackson's point is key. BLM's topsy-turvy approach on climate has brought us a federal coal binge that is indirectly subsidizing the coal industry and worsening climate disruption. The economic principles at play are not complicated. Broadly stated: If you reject a lease and take a large portion of a commodity (here coal, but it could have been natural gas, tar sands, etc.) off the market, you decrease the supply, increase the cost, and, over the long term, decrease the use of that commodity. Because switching from coal to cleaner and more affordable energy would result in less coal mined, less coal burned, and less carbon pollution emitted, BLM's decisions do have a climate impact -- and a big one at that.

In Wyoming's Powder River Basin, BLM has approved four mine expansions that alone would dig up 2.3 billion tons of coal. These "Wright Area" leases, which have been challenged by the Sierra Club and its allies, would dump more than 3.3 billion tons of carbon pollution into our atmosphere. There too, BLM continues to hold tight to its economic fiction as a way to deny the climate impacts of its decisions.

Meanwhile, through its Buffalo Resource Management Plant update, BLM has called for an additional 10 billion tons of coal to come out of the ground over the next 20 years, all while claiming the federal coal program has no impact on our climate. By preventing private companies from mining and burning coal from federal lands, BLM can better protect our climate and public health, the waters we use, the air we breathe, and the wild places we enjoy. We cannot ignore the enormous impact that mining and burning coal will have on our climate, and with last week's decision, it’s clear that the BLM and Forest Service can't either.

-- Nathaniel Shoaff, Sierra Club staff attorney

----

(1) See WildEarth Guardians v. Jewell, 738 F.3d 298 (D.C. Cir. 2013); WildEarth Guardians v. BLM, Case No. 11-cv-1481-RJL (D.D.C. Mar. 30, 2014), 2014 WL 1285505.

(2) For underground mines like West Elk, the climate impact is compounded by companies venting methane directly into the atmosphere during mining. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the heat trapping properties of carbon dioxide over 20 years. And while underground mines must remove methane to protect workers, there's no reason other than corporate profit margins that it can't be captured and used instead of vented into our atmosphere.

Sierra Club victory in Colorado a rebuke against coal leasing

6071167651_65f4793b74_b(1)
Sunset Trails Roadless Area in Colorado. Photo courtesy of WildEarth Guardians.

By Nathaniel Shoaff, Sierra Club staff attorney

In a victory for wild lands and our climate, U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson last week rejected Arch Coal's plans to bulldoze six miles of roads through 1,700 acres of Colorado's wild and natural Sunset Roadless Area in order to expand its underground West Elk coal mine.

While the decision is an enormous victory for protecting these precious wild lands and halts Arch Coal's coal mining plans for now, Judge Jackson's ruling also represents the first time that a coal mine has been rejected because of the failure to adequately consider and disclose the impacts that a mine would have on climate disruption.

The landmark decision, affirming a challenge brought by the Sierra Club and allies at Earthjustice, WildEarth Guardians, and High Country Conservation Advocates, could have far-reaching implications for protecting our climate from the threat of mining and burning of coal, natural gas, tar sands, and other fossil fuels.

Continue reading " Sierra Club victory in Colorado a rebuke against coal leasing" »


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