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Paul Allen Finances Lawsuit Targeting Coal Leasing on Federal Lands

The Seattle Times, November 26, 2014

By Hal Bernton

Mercer Island billionaire and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen has jumped into the battle over the future of coal leasing on federal lands.

A federal lawsuit financed by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, seeks to force the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to conduct a review of the effect of leasing coal on the global climate.

“The leasing of coal from federal lands undermines President Obama’s climate policy goals,” Allen wrote in a column published in The Huffington Post. “We have no comprehensive understanding of air pollution and climate impact of the federal coal-leasing program because the Bureau of Land Management has failed to analyze the available data for more than three decades.”

Allen wrote that climate change is due to “unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide we are emitting through the combustion of fossil fuels,” and that he had seen the impacts in degraded coral reefs and retreating glaciers.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by the Western Organization of Resource Councils and Friends of the Earth, and the legal fight will be fully funded by Allen’s foundation for as long as it goes, according to Michael Meehan, a spokesman for Allen.

A defendant in the lawsuit is another prominent Seattle name, Sally Jewell, the former chief executive of REI, who now serves as secretary of the Interior, which includes the BLM.

The biggest federal coal-leasing programs are in the Powder River Basin (in Montana and Wyoming), where mining companies tap into thick seams that are strip-mined and shipped to fuel U.S. power plants and, on a much smaller scale, to Asia. Currently, exports to Asia depart from Canadian ports, but coal companies are pushing for development of two big terminals in Washington, and a third in Oregon.

BLM coal leasing has long been under legal scrutiny from environmental groups.

In the past, lawsuits have targeted individual sales on the grounds that the BLM has failed to properly account for impacts on climate change. This lawsuit seeks a broader review of all federal coal leasing, which in 2013 accounted for about 40 percent of all U.S. coal extraction, according to the lawsuit.

“The BLM owes us a good comprehensive review,” said Bob LeResche, a Powder River Basin rancher in Wyoming and spokesman for the Western Organization of Resource Councils. “We thought this lawsuit is the only way to get anyone’s attention, and fortunately Mr. Allen is willing to carry the cost.”

Allen, in his opinion piece, said the BLM review should consider alternative polices that address all effects of coal leasing, and said this was a “necessary first step to wean us off fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources over the next few decades.”

Rick Curtsinger, a spokesman for Cloud Peak Energy, a major Western coal-mining company, said that leasing and mining already involve extensive and time-consuming environmental reviews with ample opportunity for public comment. Curtsinger said coal is “reliable, safe and affordable” and “projected to remain an important part of our country’s energy mix for decades to come.”

Read full article: The Seattle Times, November 26, 2014