Next week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to sell 148 million tons of publicly owned coal, making clear that BLM continues to ignore concerns about the carbon pollution from coal mining, burning and export proposals. In addition to this lease sale, known as “Maysdorf II,” BLM has also scheduled the sale of the “Haycreek II” lease sale for next month, which would give the mining industry access to another 167 million tons of our coal at subsidized rates – the last major Powder River Basin coal lease sale went to Peabody for just $1.10 per ton. Unless Interior Secretary Sally Jewell steps in to cancel them, these two upcoming lease sales will unlock over 500 million metric tons of carbon pollution – more than the annual emissions of 100 million cars. By continuing to subsidize the extraction of hundreds of millions of tons of publicly owned coal, BLM is undermining President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

The Hay Creek II and Maysdorf II leases are moving forward despite the Interior Department’s own Inspector General report revealing several flaws in the federal coal management program. Among the key findings of the IG is that the BLM is failing to take into account coal exports when selling federal leases, and that for every penny coal is undervalued, taxpayers lose $3 million. Although the IG report did not calculate the total amount of revenue denied to the public, a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that taxpayers have lost nearly $30 billion because of flaws in the way that fair market value is determined.

Of even greater concern is that selling publicly owned coal at rates of around $1 per ton amounts to a major fossil fuel subsidy, favoring coal at the expense of cleaner forms of energy. Between 2011-2012, BLM leased over 2.1 billion tons of coal in the Powder River Basin, unlocking nearly 3.5 billion metric tons of CO2. These and other concerns about the federal coal leasing program were detailed in a letter sent to Interior Secretary Jewell on her first day on the job from the leaders of 21 environmental, health, and consumer organizations. In July, several organizations again called on Secretary Jewell to fix the flaws in the federal coal management program and to stop selling new coal leases in the meantime. Over 135,000 people have sent messages to Secretary Jewell to establish a moratorium and with the two new coal leases looming, hundreds more have called her office this week.

Interior Secretary Jewell should cancel these and all upcoming coal lease sales and reform the federal coal leasing program to address concerns that it is fueling climate change, subsidizing coal export proposals, and cheating taxpayers.

Strip mining coal in the Powder River Basin.
Strip mining coal in the Powder River Basin