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For Immediate Release, June 16, 2010

Contact:  Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 573-4898 x 1303, cell (303) 437-7663
Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232 x 302, cell (951) 961-7972
Ginny Cramer, Sierra Club, (804) 225-9113 x 102
Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9622

EPA Called on to Set National Limits on Air Pollution From U.S. Coal Mines
Mines Endanger Public Health, Safety and the Climate

DENVER— A coalition of environmental groups today called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to put public health and safety first, and to establish, for the first time ever, limits on air pollution from coal mines throughout the United States.

“It’s time to finally hold coal mines accountable to our health, safety and environment,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “With mines spewing methane, dust, toxic orange clouds and other dangerous gases, we need a national response that puts clean air before coal.”

In a petition to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Earthjustice, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club called for the agency to exercise its authority under the Clean Air Act to both list coal mines as a source of harmful air pollution and ensure the best systems of emission reduction are used to keep this pollution in check. Such standards have been adopted for gravel mines, coal-fired power plants, coal-processing plants and dozens of other sources, but currently no national limits exist on air pollution from coal mines.

“Coal mines have gotten a free pass for far too long,” said Kassie Siegel with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s essential to establish these common-sense rules to reduce air pollution from coal mines — including closed mines no longer producing coal — while we transition as rapidly as possible away from reliance on dirty, dangerous, coal-fired power.”

The petition comes as attention increasingly focuses on methane emissions from coal mines. Methane is major a safety hazard, contributing to a number of mine catastrophes over the years, including the most recent Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia. Methane is also a potent greenhouse gas. The EPA has determined that methane, with more than 20 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide,  endangers public health and welfare. It also contributes to ground-level ozone pollution, the key ingredient of smog. Nationally, coal mines are responsible for 10 percent of all human-caused methane emissions, yet no standards exist to control these emissions.

Already, the EPA has established national limits on methane emissions from municipal solid waste landfills, and the agency’s own reports show methane controls at coal mines can be exceptionally cost effective. Overall, the EPA estimates more than 85 percent of all U.S. coal-mine methane emissions can be eliminated at a cost of $15/ton; with health benefits factored in, the payback could be as much as $240/ton of methane reduced.

“Methane is a dangerous gas, but it’s probably the most cost effective to control,” said Aaron Isherwood with the Sierra Club. “The health, safety and climate benefits of reducing methane from coal mines are simply too important to ignore.”

The petition also calls on the EPA administrator to adopt strict limits on other dangerous air pollutants released from coal mines, including particulate matter, nitrogen oxide gases and volatile organic compounds — all toxic air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Nitrogen oxides are an especially visible example of the problem. Blasting at strip mines, such as those in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming, produce dense, orange clouds of nitrogen oxides. No standards currently limit such pollution from coal mines. Instead, signs posted along public highways warn of orange clouds, advising people to “Avoid Contact.”

“Other industries are already required to do their part to protect the air we breathe,” said Ted Zukoski, a staff attorney with Earthjustice. “It’s time for the EPA to hold the coal industry accountable for its air pollution too.”

The groups are asking the EPA to respond to the petition within 180 days.

To read the petition, click here.

For images of methane venting at the West Elk Coal Mine in Western Colorado, see

For images of orange clouds and warning signs in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, see

WildEarth Guardians is a Western U.S.-based nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, and wild rivers of the American West.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Environmental Integrity Project combines research, reporting, media outreach, and the litigation to ensure that environmental laws are enforced, are effective, and inform and empower the public.

The Sierra Club is a national nonprofit organization of approximately 1.3 million members and supporters dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth; to practicing and promoting the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educating and enlisting humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to using all lawful means to carry out these objectives.

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.

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