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Environmentalists Criticize BLM Coal Lease

Doc Searls
Flickr Creative Commons
Green groups say the BLM should rethink a lease adjacent to the Skyline Mine in central Utah along with its entire coal leasing program. Coal plants like the Navajo Generating Station here cause air pollution and harm the global climate, the groups say.

The federal government approved a big coal lease in central Utah Friday over the objections of environmental groups.

WildEarth Guardians, Greenpeace and other environmental groups asked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management earlier this month to scrap an auction for 42 million tons of coal in Sanpete County.  They wrote a letter urging Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to stop the sale.

Tim Wagner, director of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, says burning the leased coal will mean more air pollution in Utah and climate change worldwide.

“There’s an old saying in the environmental advocacy community: Think globally; act locally,” says Wagner, whose group also signed the letter. “This is a global issue, but we’re actually acting locally to stop a coal lease here for that very reason.”

The environmental groups want the BLM to rethink its entire coal program as part of the Obama administration’s climate pollution strategy. But the agency went ahead Thursday and approved the $17 million sale, adjacent to the Skyline Mine. Megan Crandall is spokeswoman for the BLM ‘s Utah office.  She says the lease could mean work for 300 miners and federal royalties of $100 million that would be split with Utah. Crandall says federal agencies do want to broaden the energy mix eventually.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t have a legal responsibility in the BLM to ensure that domestic energy resources including coal move forward with development in a responsible fashion,” she says. “This is all part of the balance.”

Meanwhile, environmental groups are discussing whether to sue the federal government over this sale.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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