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Attorney General Bonta Calls on the Bureau of Land Management to Consider Climate and Environmental Justice Impacts of Federal Coal Leasing Program

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today led a multistate coalition in urging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to take into account the full social and environmental costs of the federal coal program when making decisions about whether, and to what extent, to continue coal leasing. The last full environmental review of the federal coal program was completed in 1979, when the federal government’s policy was to increase reliance on coal and climate change was not yet fully understood. In 2016, the Obama Administration placed a moratorium on coal leases while it initiated a comprehensive environmental review of the program. However, after taking office, the Trump Administration ceased this review and restarted the program. In today’s comments, the coalition argues – as it has in its ongoing litigation – that BLM must conduct a comprehensive environmental review that considers the climate and environmental justice impacts of the federal coal leasing program.

“The decisions we make on climate today will reverberate for generations,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Already, the realities of the climate crisis are impossible to ignore. We see it every time we face a 'once in a generation' wildfire or drought – and we see it every day in the millions of Californians bearing the brunt of environmental pollution and suffering the resulting health consequences. Today, I'm urging the Bureau of Land Management to fully account for the environmental, human, and economic costs of the federal coal leasing program – and to make its decisions accordingly.” 

In today’s comments, the California-led coalition argues BLM must fully consider the significant climate and environmental justice impacts of the federal coal leasing program:

Climate Change: The production, transport, and consumption of federal coal is estimated to account for approximately 11 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. As the West battles record-breaking wildfires, unprecedented drought, and extreme heat, BLM must consider the heavy toll of climate change on the state’s economy, people, and natural resources. In 2020 alone, there were 22 weather events that each cost the economy at least $1 billion, the most recorded since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began tracking the cost of these disasters. The average number of billion-dollar events since 1980 is seven; the average number since 2015 is more than double at 15.1. While states like California have long been at the forefront of the fight against climate change, state programs alone are not enough. Reducing coal consumption is one of the lowest-hanging fruits in state – and federal – efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental Justice: All communities should be able to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a safe and healthy environment. Too often, however, low-income communities, communities of color, and tribal and indigenous communities are denied all three. In California, millions of tons of coal are transported each year in open rail cars to ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Stockton, and Richmond – through and into communities that are already disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution and suffering the resulting health consequences. While there are numerous environmental impacts of the federal coal leasing program that remain to be addressed – including impacts to water quality, air quality, and wildlife – the coalition specifically urges BLM to consider the environmental justice impacts from the transport, warehousing, and export of federal coal. For example, particulate matter emissions from the storage and handling of coal can cause or contribute to a wide variety of serious health problems, including asthma, bronchitis, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

Attorney General Bonta is joined by the attorneys general of New Mexico, New York, and Washington.

A copy of the comment letter can be found here.