Even as scientists are confirming that it’s time to keep fossil fuels in the ground, the U.S. Department of the Interior continues to open the door for extensive coal, oil, and gas development on our public lands, fueling unchecked carbon pollution at belligerently reckless rates.
The latest step backward occurred earlier this week as Interior’s Bureau of Land Management just gave itself a big pat on the back for approving thousands of new drilling permits and offered to lease nearly 6 million acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry for fracking.
The Bureau was so zealous, they gloat that they offered drilling permits and leasing opportunities “in excess of industry demand.”
In other words not only is the Bureau of Land Management meeting 100% of industry demands, they’re actually trying to give away even more.
It doesn’t end there. Last month, Interior reaffirmed its belief that coal is an “important part of our domestic energy portfolio,” offering new guidance to make leasing and mining more “efficient” and “certain” for industry.
Certainly, the new guidance is meant to ensure the American public gets a fair return on coal, especially where it’s exported, and it is likely to spur higher prices for federal coal leases and higher royalties. However, there’s an ominous omission. Nowhere has Interior signaled its intent to ensure carbon costs are factored into the valuation of coal.
It’s a simple concept. Carbon has a price. If unleashed from the ground (in the form of oil, gas, or coal), that price becomes a cost borne by our economy in the form of the destruction wrought by climate change. Those costs can add up, erasing any economic benefits otherwise reaped by the production and consumption of fossil fuels.
In the case of publicly owned coal, all signs indicate that carbon costs are, in fact, adding up and overriding any economic benefits. As reported by our friends at Greenpeace, while a ton of federal coal is brining in $1.03 per ton in revenue, it’s yielding carbon costs of between $22 and $237.
Interior’s new guidance, while providing greater clarity and direction around the valuation of publicly owned coal, continues to turn a blind eye to carbon costs, filling industry’s coffers at our expense.
Ensuring a fair return from coal sales is certainly laudable, but the reality is, no return can ever be fair if it doesn’t fully compensate the American public for the climate damage caused by unleashing more carbon.
Now, more than ever, Interior should be exercising massive restraint when it comes to development of fossil fuels on our public lands. Sadly, they’re not. The list of new coal, oil, and gas projects slated for approval in the coming months continues to swell. Here’s just a sampling of what’s in the queue:
- A new coal lease in southern Wyoming that would expand the Jim Bridger mine and extend the life of the Jim Bridger coal-fired power plant;
- A proposal to auction off 13,000 acres along Colorado’s Front Range for fracking;
- The approval of 89 new oil and gas wells near Colorado’s Pawnee National Grassland;
- A proposal to auction off more than 55,000 acres for fracking in southern Utah;
- A new oil pipeline near Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico that threatens to lead to a five-fold increase in fracking in the region;
- Another new coal lease in the Powder River Basin of Montana that would expand the Rosebud mine and extend the life of the Colstrip coal-fired power plant; and
- To top it all off, a proposal to lease nearly 1,000 acres of lands for fracking in Idaho, the first time the Bureau of Land Management has approved fracking in this majestic western state.
And this is just a fraction of what’s planned for approval in the next year. It’s like a tsunami of carbon threatening to be unleashed.
Of course, with Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Department of Interior, actively advocating for more fracking (and even dismissing the notion that fracking should be banned or otherwise curtailed), perhaps there’s little chance of a shift.
If that’s the case, the Obama Administration needs to fire Sally Jewell. After all, she’s the one who said climate denial has no place at the Department of the Interior.