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Obama Filling The West’s Stocking With Coal

As fall turns to winter, President Obama has continued his virtually unbroken streak of bending over backwards for the coal industry in the West.  For those who love Western public lands and could do without more subsidies to Big Coal, Mr. Obama has been more Grinch than Santa.

For example, the Forest Service recently consented to a coal lease in western Colorado that will result in more than two square miles of the beautiful Sunset Trail Roadless Area being chewed up with 48 well pads and 6.5 miles of road.  It’s a Christmas present to corporate goliath Arch Coal, and coal in the public’s stocking.

But wait, there’s more! BLM is moving ahead with plans to approve a strip mine on the doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park.  Denuded habitat, truck trips that will disrupt tourism and the lives of local residents, and dust will all result.  Not everyone is wild about the idea - including the Salt Lake Tribune, which editorialized against the project.  (And if you're not wild about the strip mine either, go here to tell the BLM.) 

And if Mr. Obama favors coal mines over roadless areas and national parks, what chance do the grasslands and sage-brush steppe of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin have?  Not much, as WIldEarth Guardians' Jeremy Nichols argues in a recent blog post.  BLM and the Forest Service continue to rubber stamp new coal leases there without a serious look at the climate change impacts for that state or anywhere else.  Which leads to lawsuits.

With carbon emissions last year taking the "biggest jump ever recorded" according to the New York Times, it’s perplexing that this administration continues to lock in a dirty energy future with these coal leases, at the expense of our public lands.

There is still one chance for Obama to but a big present under the tree for those who love the West’s wide-open spaces, however. 

In late October, BLM completed its environmental analysis of a proposal to close to uranium mining a million acres of public land adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park.  That 20-year closure would stop hundreds of uranium exploration projects and protect the water, wildlife, wildlands and cultural resources from radiation, pollution and industrial construction.  It would also protect numerous sites sacred to Native Americans who have lived in the area for centuries, and who bore the brunt of poisoning from uranium mining in the 1950s through 1980s near the Canyon. 

A decision to implement the withdrawal could come any day.

(Even this present wouldn’t be without its blemishes.  The Obama administration continues to defend in court a 2009 decision to re-open a uranium mine near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon based on badly outdated environmental reviews.)

Some year, maybe the wilderness West will receive a lot of Christmas presents.  But not this year.

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