By Brad Johnson, Guest Blogger on Jun 29, 2012 at 11:26 am
By Brad Johnson, campaign manager of Forecast the Facts
The Obama administration’s Bureau of Land Management auctioned a major tract of Wyoming coal to Peabody Energy at a bargain-basement price of $1.10 per ton yesterday.
The North Porcupine coal tract in the Powder River Basin went to the single bidder, Peabody subsidiary BPU Western Resources, for $793,270,310.80 for 721 million tons, BLM representative Beverly Gorny stated in a telephone interview.
This sale, made under the provisions of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, represents a massive fossil-fuel subsidy based on the assumption that the use of coal benefits the American public. However, it is likely this coal is intended for the Asian market, where sub-bituminous coal fetches a much higher price. The non-competitive leasing program is under federal investigation.
Moreover, the costs of the carbon pollution from mining and burning this coal were not taken into consideration. The 721 million short tons of sub-bituminous coal in the lease sale will generate approximately 1.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide when burned. With a modest estimated social cost of carbon at $65 per ton of CO2, the global-warming impacts to society of this lease sale exceed $70 billion — 90 times the price paid for the lease. More than 27,000 people signed a Credo Action petition opposing the fire sale of Wyoming’s sub-prime carbon reserves.
The lease sale still has to be approved by the BLM post-sale panel, which recently rejected a low-ball bid for an adjoining tract.
By Tom Kenworthy, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Hundreds of thousands of people have stated their opposition to a proposed big expansion of a coal strip mine in Utah that would harm Bryce Canyon National Park and the recreation economy associated with the southern Utah attraction that has enjoyed federal protection for nearly 90 years.
Known for its slot canyons and ghostly red rock spires called hoodoos, Bryce is threatened by a plan to greatly expand the nearby existing Coal Hollow Mine from 635 acres to 3,576 acres, with a majority of the expansion taking place on public lands. If completed, the mine would then include areas just 10 miles from Bryce.
The park has determined that [the mine expansion would have] adverse effects on surrounding comunities, the tourism industry of southern Utah, air quality standards, dark skies conservation, and regional wildlife
In a letter last week, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to “consider the signal this decision sends regarding the future of our parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas and reject the call for expanding coal mining.”
Repeating concerns raised by other federal agencies about air quality, the park’s well-known night skies, natural quiet and wetlands and wildlife, Markey also reminded Salazar of the Obama administration’s commitment to clean energy development on public lands:
Proceeding with the expansion of coal mining in a sensitive area so close to a national park calls in question our dedication to promoting renewable energy development both on and off public lands
More than 210,000 comments have been been submitted to public land managers in opposition to the strip mine expansion.
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has issued a draft environmental analysis of the coal mine, with a proposed action that would allow the expansion to go forward.
As it has in regard to several new coal mining leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the BLM has closed its eyes to the Utah mine’s impact on climate change, contending that existing climate prediction models cannot estimate potential climate change impacts from one mine.
By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Last week the Bureau of Land Management took an initial action towards approving the dramatic expansion of Utah’s only strip coal mine located in the Alton Coal Tract in southwest Utah by releasing a draft environmental impact statement for the project. The Coal Hollow Mine is currently located on 635 acres of private land, but the Alton Coal Development company has applied to expand it onto 2,280 surface acres of public lands and 1,296 acres of private lands for a total of 3,576 acres—a more than 500% increase.
Of note is the fact that the BLM did not analyze the effects of mining and burning this coal on global climate change because, it claimed, “existing climate prediction models are not at a scale sufficient to estimate potential impacts of climate change within the analysis area.” In essence, BLM officials declared that the amount of recoverable coal generated by the mine (46 million tons) is insignificant on a global scale, and therefore the agency should not be bothered to analyze its “possible” effects on the climate. The analysis also assumes that “United States demand for coal is expected to increase by approximately 0.4% per year through 2035,” a catastrophic scenario.
A report from the Department of Energy released last week found that global output of carbon dioxide increased by the biggest margin ever recorded last year. As the Associated Press explained, “levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.”
This step in the wrong direction with regard to the Alton coal project is not the Secretary’s first miscalculation with regard to coal development on public lands. In March the Interior Department announced plans to auction off more than 2 billion tons of coal. As ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm said at the time, “This decision certainly eviscerates Salazar’s green street cred.”
The Salt Lake Tribune framed the decision as one that forces Utahns to “debate which kind of economic development is best: heavy industry or tourism.” Bryce Canyon National Park is an economic generator for southwestern Utah, creating 1,628 jobs and $101 million in visitor spending in 2009. Because of the effects of this dirty coal mine on recreation and the national park, the Salt Lake Tribune called the development of the mine “unconscionable” and noted that residents are “right to worry.”
By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee spent Thursday morning learning that their four bills introduced to speed up permitting of renewable energy on public lands in reality would have very little effect on renewable energy development. Indeed, agency witnesses testified that the policies could have the opposite effect — creating more lawsuits and delaying projects.
As became clear during the hearing, the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service already have the authority to do what three of the bills propose — exempt projects with no environmental impact from the environmental review process. The key difference with the bills promoted by Republicans is that they completely exempt wind and geothermal testing facilities from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a law designed to minimize conflict with projects from the start. According to the government witnesses, this could lead to more delays in permitting. Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director Mike Pool explained bluntly that the GOP legislation would create “more lawsuits”:
I believe any action that would shortchange the NEPA process would result in more lawsuits.
Pool further noted in his testimony that the legislation could have “unintended consequences.” Because of this, the wind and solar energy industries did not come out in favor of the three bills that would affect them. While thanking Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD) for her leadership in introducing one of the bills, Chris Taylor, testifying on behalf of Element Power (a solar and wind company) and the American Wind Energy Association, stated that the problems his organization sees with permitting wind testing facilities “can be improved within the confines of NEPA.” In other words, the legislation is not needed.
As ten witnesses testified before the committee in twodifferent oversight hearings a few weeks ago, consistent and reliable financing is the biggest roadblock to renewable energy development on public lands. Taylor of the American Wind Energy Association reiterated that point today, saying: “Far and away the biggest challenge facing the wind industry right now is the lack of stable federal policy support, namely long-term financial incentives and a demand-side policy like a clean or renewable electricity standard…it needs to be clear that any changes that are made to make it easier to site projects on public lands will be of limited use if projects aren’t able to be built because federal tax incentives…or because the lack of demand-side policies limit the market for renewable energy.”
Republicans killed off the best mechanism for long-term policy support for the renewable energy industry when they demonized climate legislation, which would have allowed the market to determine the most efficient mechanism for making desperately needed reductions in carbon pollution. They continue to slash clean energy programs and prop up the oil and coal industries with new pollution subsidies.
By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress.
Yesterday, House Republicans called a hearing on renewable energy in the Natural Resources Committee to review roadblocks to wind and solar development, which had been postponed twice. Witnesses from the solar and wind industries testified on obstacles to development on public lands, and all unanimously agreed that financing and budget cuts were the major impediments. When asked by Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) whether they would like to see clean energy programs restored after severe budget cuts, every witness answered “yes”:
MARKEY: Would you like to see the loan guarantees for renewables restored?
WITNESS #1: From an industry perspective, yes
WITNESS #2: Yes we would, we think that a level playing field could tremendously help.
WITNESS #3: Absolutely yes.
WITNESS #4: In bold 72-font underlined yes.
WITNESS #5: Absolutely, critical program.
WITNESS #6: Yes.
WITNESS #7: Yes, the incentives do make a big difference.
WITNESS #8: Loan guarantees, with credit subsidies, absolutely.
The witnesses were Roby Roberts, Co-Chairman, Legislative Committee, American Wind Energy Association; Susan Reilly, President & CEO, Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc.; James S. Gordon, President, Cape Wind Associates, LLC; Jim Lanard, President, Offshore Wind Development Coalition; Rhone Resch, President and CEO, Solar Energy Industries Association; Dr. Martin Piszczalski, Industry Analyst, Sextant Research; and Dan Reicher, Executive Director, Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, Stanford University.
Rather than addressing this challenge, the GOP continually votes to slash funding to renewable programs. For example, House Republicans’ H.R. 1 would have almost completely eliminated the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee program, which one witness called “essential to support job creation and economic development opportunities in many states.”
H.R. 1 also contained massive cuts to the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior, such as slashing research, development, and innovation programs by 28 percent, which are critical to helping new technologies come to scale and get built. It also made tens of millions of dollars in cuts to programs at the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service that would put efficient permitting of renewable energy projects on public lands at risk.
On the flip side, the GOP has voted almost unanimously at least three times to protect subsidies to oil companies. In February, the House GOP defeated an amendment that would have ended loopholes enjoyed by the oil industry. In March, House Democrats offered a Motion to Recommit on a spending bill that would have cut subsidies to the five largest oil companies, but not one Republican voted for the bill. And in May, House Republicans rejected told an effort to bring up a bill that would end one of the major take breaks to oil companies.
Any real attempt to overcome roadblocks for wind and solar development will need to address the issue of funding, as both the wind and solar industries testified to. That means extending the Production and Investment Tax Credits, supporting a green bank, and extending the Loan Guarantee Program. These are the policies that will spur solar and wind projects on public lands and lead to strong, responsible renewable energy development.
In the waning days of the Bush presidency, an auction of 130,000 acres of pristine Utah lands near national parks was organized by the Bureau of Land Management as a last-minute gift to the oil and gas industry. Tim DeChristopher, “then a 27-year-old economics student at Utah, walked into the auction and signed up as Bidder 70.” DeChristopher successfully bid for $1.7 million in parcels, breaking up the auction. The Bush leasing plan was found in court to be flawed and has been withdrawn, but DeChristopher faces 10 years in jail for his brave act of non-violent civil disobedience. Furthermore, the judge in charge of DeChristopher’s case is stacking the case against him:
A reasonable person would realize that since the government ruled that the auctions were invalid to begin with – Tim clearly prevented a greater crime from happening. And a reasonable person should also see that the dangerous policies of destroying wild lands to continue our addiction to fossil fuels is a far greater crime than anything Tim might have done. But the judge in this case has blocked attempts by Tim’s lawyers to introduce arguments about the dire threats of climate change, and refused to let the jury hear Tim’s motivations and reasons for doing what he did.
DeChristopher been charged with two felonies: making a false statement, and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act. Meanwhile, the Obama administration approved the first offshore drilling permit today since the BP disaster, for which no criminal charges have been filed.
Hundreds of smiling protesters marched from Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park to Exchange Place across the street from the federal courthouse this morning, wielding “Bidder 70″ placards and chanting “Free Tim, Free Tim!”
The Bush Administration is rushing forward with plans to mine the Grand Canyon for uranium, ignoring a command from Congress to cease such operations. Since 2003, mining interests have staked out over 800 uranium claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park. As Mineweb reports, “The Bureau of Land Management has published a proposed rule which rejects the House Natural Resources Emergency House Resolution enacted in June that bans uranium mining and exploration near the Grand Canyon National Park.” The Arizona Republic explains what’s at stake:
Or that Arizona Game and Fish warns about the impact on wildlife.
Or that Grand Canyon National Park is still dealing with the toxic mess from past mines.
The proposed BLM rule would not only reject the House’s emergency withdrawal of over one million acres of federal land near Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining, but also eliminate the provisions that allow Congress to make such withdrawals in the future. The proposed rule, published on Friday, has a remarkably short comment period, closing in less than two weeks on October 27. House Parks Subcommittee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) blasted BLM’s action, saying, “This last-minute move by this ‘see if we can get it under the clock‘ administration is cowardly.”
But McCain’s claim to Roosevelt-style environmentalism has been badly bruised by his silence on uranium mining near the park and on the Navajo Nation.
“McCain gave us hope that he might be a Teddy Roosevelt type of Republican,” said Roger Clark, air and water director for The Grand Canyon Trust, a Flagstaff, Ariz., environmental group. “Since the beginning of his run for president, including 2000, that has kind of crumbled.”
The Arizona Republic’s editorial concludes that it’s “legacy time at the administration”:
Surely President Bush doesn’t want his to include tainted water and a contaminated landscape. We must keep the temporary ban on uranium mining near Grand Canyon.
Written comments should be submitted online or sent to Director (630), Bureau of Land Management, 1620 L St., NW, Room 401, Washington, DC 20036, Attention: RIN 1004-AEO5.