October 8, 2014 – Today a nationwide coalition of groups called on the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior to seize an important opportunity created by the recent federal court ruling in the Sunset Roadless case. The Court’s decision opens a new door for the agencies to engage the public in an informed and transparent decision making process regarding the climate impacts from coal mining on public lands. The West Elk coal mine litigation was brought by Sierra Club, Wild Earth Guardians, High Country Conservation Advocates, and Earthjustice.
U.S. District Court Judge Brooke Jackson ruled earlier this summer that the Bureau of Land Management must assess climate impacts of opposed expansion of the West Elk coal mine using the social cost of carbon protocol, a method for assessing the economic impacts of carbon emissions. The protocol, which was developed by a coalition of federal departments and the White House, has already been utilized by many agencies, including the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, to assess the costs and benefits of federal decisions.
The ruling also rejected the Forest Service’s unsupported assertion that opening up roughly 350 million tons of federal coal would have no impact on the total amount of coal mined and burned in the United States.
The Court’s decision shines light on the potential for the Departments Interior and Agriculture to play a meaningful role in curtailing carbon pollution in the U.S. Both oversee vast amounts of public lands, including extensive tracts of coal, oil, and natural gas, particularly in the American West. In 2013, 40% of the nation’s coal, 15% of the nation’s natural gas, and 22% of the nation’s oil came from public lands overseen by Interior and Agriculture agencies.
In a letter submitted to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, the coalition highlighted the opportunity created by the West Elk ruling in Colorado. The groups also submitted this letter to the Governor of Colorado detailing the same opportunities at a state level.
With blessing from a federal judge, Interior and Agriculture now have the opportunity to account for the carbon costs of this fossil fuel production and ensure that their public lands management does not undermine climate protection.