Climate + Energy

It’s the Ugly that Matters

In the fight against global warming, it helps to be sexy.

Case in point is the proposed Alton coal mine, a new pit slated to be punched in the ground near—of all places—Bryce Canyon National Park.

You know Bryce Canyon, right?  One of America’s most scenic National Parks.  A jewel of Southern Utah.  A place so beautiful that even the State of Utah passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to protect it.

As recent news reports have pointed out, in proposing the Alton coal mine, which would greenlight 100 million tons of coal stripping, the Bureau of Land Management completely denied that its plans would have any global warming impact.

Of course, in reality, the coal would be mined and burned in power plants, releasing an estimated 220 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

That’s 220 million tons of carbon dioxide released into an atmosphere already dangerously overloaded with carbon dioxide.

And still, the Bureau of Land Management denied.  The Agency went so far as to assert that the link between human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and global warming is “uncertain.”

Not only did scientists describe this claim as “far from an accurate reflection of the state of climate science,” but even the boss of the Bureau of Land Management, the Secretary of the Interior himself, Ken Salazar, has stated:

Carbon pollution is putting our world – and our way of life – in peril.

But while the attention on the proposed Alton coal mine is much-needed, what’s gone overlooked is the fact that the Bureau of Land Management’s plans in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming are shaping up to be an order of magnitude worse.

As WildEarth Guardians pointed out last week, coal mining plans in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming—the largest coal producing region in the U.S.—are threatening to lead to the release of more than 11.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.

That’s billions, not millions.  And to put that into perspective, 11.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide is almost twice the total amount of greenhouse gases released in the United States in 2009.

The latest news comes as WildEarth Guardians last week called on the Interior Department to stay the issuance of the North Porcupine coal lease.  All told, this lease would lead to the mining of more than 700 million tons of coal, facilitating the expansion of Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle mine—the second largest coal mine in the world.

And while the North Porcupine coal lease would release more than one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide—four times the amount that would be released from the Alton coal mine—its impacts thus far have gone virtually unnoticed.

Because it helps to be sexy.  And, I’ll be the first to admit, the Powder River Basin of Wyoming is no Bryce Canyon National Park.

Yet what the Powder River Basin may lack in scenic beauty, it certainly makes up for in pure ugliness.  Because just like in Utah, the Bureau of Land Management is denying that coal mining in the Powder River Basin has any global warming impact.

Put another way, the Agency is actually arguing that 11.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere simply won’t have an effect on our climate.

In the fight against global warming, that’s pretty ugly.

So while the attention on Alton is certainly welcome, perhaps it’s time to reassess the way we confront greenhouse gas emissions.  Everybody likes a sexy place, but the reality is, it’s the ugliness that matters.

And in the case of the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, global warming doesn’t get much uglier than this.

Coal-fired Power Plants Supplied by the Powder River Basin
There are more than 200 Coal-fired Power Plants in the United States Fueled by Coal from the Powder River Basin.

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