03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Salazar's Dirty Energy Disgrace

Here's an international embarrassment waiting to happen.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is not only planning to tag along with President Obama at the upcoming U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen he"s going to be a keynote speaker.

The title of his upcoming speech: "New Energy Future: the role of public lands in clean energy production and carbon capture."

Coincidentally, this was announced the same time as WildEarth Guardians released its report, "UnderMining the Climate," which found that Secretary Salazar and the Department of Interior are responsible for the lion's share of greenhouse emissions in the U.S.

The reason? Coal mining in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.

Located on the remote high plains of northeastern Wyoming, the Powder River Basin is the nation's largest coal producing region. Nearly 500,000,000 tons of coal are strip mined annually -- more than the entire Appalachian region. The coal is shipped by railroad and burned in power plants from New Jersey to Oregon and everywhere in between.

It's an amazingly frightening distinction. Coal-fired power plants are already the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., making the Powder River Basin the largest contributor to global warming in the nation. The region is responsible for 800,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in the U.S. -- more than 13% of the nation's total.

But here's the big kicker. Because all coal in the region is federally owned and leased to coal companies by the Bureau of Land Management, an Interior Department agency, it's Secretary Salazar who's responsible for the global warming impacts of coal mining in the Powder River Basin.

In other words, the global warming calamity that is the Powder River Basin? That's Secretary Salazar.

Let's look at this another way, though. Secretary Salazar holds the key to safeguarding the climate in the U.S. If we have any hope of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the 17% we've committed, it's going to take weaning ourselves from coal. We can't do that unless Secretary Salazar starts changing course in the Powder River Basin.

Unfortunately, that's just not happening.

Despite his clean energy rhetoric, Secretary Salazar has yet to begin to articulate a plan for addressing the global warming impacts of coal mining in the Powder River Basin. Worse, the Bureau of Land Management is slated to offer upward of 5.8 billion (yes, billion) tons of new coal for lease in the next year, threatening to release nearly 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. That's more than three times the amount of carbon dioxide released by all U.S. coal-fired power plants in 2007.

All the clean energy in the world can't and won't change the fact that on Secretary Salazar's watch, the Powder River Basin is on course to remain the largest contributor to global warming in the U.S. That's not a "New Energy Future," that's a dirty energy disaster.

The world is looking to the U.S. for credible solutions to global warming, not more rhetoric. Until Secretary Salazar starts to change course in the Powder River Basin, his presence in Copenhagen next month may only be a liability.

Download "UnderMining the Climate."


Strip mining in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming (photo by BLM).