Coal mines are major sources of controllable air pollution. They release 10 percent of national methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, as well as large amounts of nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and soot—the leading cause of premature deaths associated with air pollution.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is legally required to limit this pollution, but the agency has failed to do so. EPA’s failure to address coal mine pollution is even more inexplicable given that off-the-shelf technology exists that permits mines to operate safely while reducing or eliminating much of the pollution, especially methane. Mines around the globe are flaring methane, capturing it and putting it in pipelines for commercial or household use, or burning it on-site to generate electricity.
Earthjustice filed suit in 2011 against the agency on behalf of multiple environmental groups to compel EPA to follow its legal obligation to protect public health and the environment from coal mine pollution. While EPA responded to the lawsuit by denying the petition in 2013, saying it was spending time on higher priority issues, the Obama administration in 2014 unveiled an initiative to reduce methane emissions and announced that the agency that manages federal coal (the Bureau of Land Management) would study ways to limit coal mine methane pollution.