By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Citing global warming, environmental groups are asking a federal judge to call a halt in Wyoming to one of the largest coal-mining plans ever approved by the U.S. government.
In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians said the federal Bureau of Land Management failed to consider the impact of greenhouse gases that will be emitted when coal from four government mineral leases in Wyoming is burned in power plants across the nation and in Asia.
The leases contain roughly 2 billion tons of coal in the Wyoming portion of the Powder River Basin, a geologic region in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana that produces about 40 percent of the country's coal.
Environmentalists are arguing that the BLM broke federal laws and agency rules by neglecting to analyze fully the global impact from the release of carbon dioxide and other pollutants by power plants, mostly in the Midwest, that will burn coal from the four leases.
They say those leases represent one of the largest coal-mining plans ever sanctioned by the federal government.
The groups want a federal judge to suspend the government's plan to lease and mine coal from the tracts at least until the BLM completes a supplemental analysis on the environmental impacts.
"The BLM itself has estimated that for every one ton of Powder River Basin coal burned, 1,659 metric tons of carbon dioxide are released," said Connie Wilbert, head of the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club. "We have to start addressing this problem now, we can't keep doing business as usual."
Beverly Gorny, spokeswoman for the BLM office in Cheyenne, Wyoming, said she could not comment on the litigation.
The agency has already sold one of the four leases to Arch Coal Inc, one of the world's top coal producers and owner of Black Thunder Mine in Wyoming, the largest U.S. coal mine and the largest coal-mining complex in the world, according to the company's website.
Officials at the St. Louis-based company did not respond to requests for comment.
Another of the leases - in the vicinity of the North Antelope Rochelle Mine owned by Peabody Energy - is slated to be sold on May 17. The remaining two leases have not yet been scheduled for sale, Gorny said.
Peabody Energy, headquartered in St. Louis, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Powder River Basin is prized for "clean" coal. It contains much less sulfur - a contributor to acid rain - than coal produced in the eastern United States. It also produces more heat, or energy, when burned and creates less fly ash, according to the Wyoming State Geological Survey.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)