Paul Allen-Funded Suit Seeks Review of U.S. Coal Program

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Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen is funding a lawsuit by two environmental groups seeking the first review of a federal coal-leasing program in 35 years as they try to gauge its impact on the environment and global warming.

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is underwriting the case brought by the Western Organization of Resource Councils and Friends of the Earth. In the suit, filed today in Washington federal court, they seek a comprehensive review of the program, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. That hasn’t been done since 1979, according to the complaint.

“Since that time, scientific evidence has established that greenhouse gases produced by coal mining and combustion endanger the public health and welfare,” the groups said today in a statement.

Environmentalists have been pressuring the government to ratchet up regulations of coal, the biggest source of carbon emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules to cut carbon output from coal-fired power plants 30 percent by 2030.

The Bureau of Land Management, part of the U.S. Interior Department, is responsible for the leasing and oversight of about 570 million acres of coal country owned by the federal government.

Celia Boddington, a spokeswoman for BLM, said in an e-mail that the agency doesn’t comment on matters of pending litigation.

Sharing Revenue

The vast majority of the leases are in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Montana, attracting coal producers including Cloud Peak Energy Inc., Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal Inc. Revenue from leases and royalties from production is shared by the federal government and the states where the coal is located, according to the BLM website.

Coal mined under the federal program has doubled since 1990, accounting for about 40 percent of extraction last year. It constitutes about 14 percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions and 11 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the complaint. BLM has “unlawfully failed” to evaluate or consider such environmental effects, the groups said in the filing.

“More than 40 percent of all the coal mined in the United States is owned by U.S. taxpayers, yet the BLM has not fulfilled its obligation to manage these resources responsibly,” Dune Ives, co-manager of the Allen foundation, said in the statement. “We are supporting this ligation because we can’t wait three more decades to understand the environmental impact of the federal coal leasing program.”

The federal program includes land within the Powder River Basin, a high, mineral-rich plain that stretches from central Wyoming into southern Montana. The area is the biggest recipient of federal coal leases and supplies about 41 percent of the country’s coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The case is Western Organization of Resource Councils v. Sally Jewell, 14-cv-1993, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington)

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