Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 27, 2016

Contact: Patrick Sullivan, (415) 517-9364,

Prominent Climate Scientists Urge Obama Administration to End Coal Leasing on Public Lands

WASHINGTON— More than 65 prominent scientists today urged the Obama administration to fight global warming by permanently ending coal leasing on public lands. In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Drs. James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Mark Jacobson, Michael Oppenheimer, Susan Solomon, Stuart Pimm and dozens of other climate and environmental scientists pointed out that most U.S. coal deposits must stay in the ground to avert climate change’s most damaging effects.

Coal mining
Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management.

Today’s letter comes as the U.S. Department of the Interior embarks on an environmental review of the federal coal-leasing program, which alone accounts for 13 percent of all U.S. fossil-fuel carbon emissions.

“We are scientists writing to urge the Department of the Interior to take meaningful action to fight climate change by ending federal coal leasing, extraction, and burning,” the letter states. “The vast majority of known coal in the United States must stay in the ground if the federal coal program is to be consistent with national climate objectives and be protective of public health, welfare, and biodiversity.” 

“Coal mining on our public lands is incompatible with our national commitment to protect human health and well-being, protect the natural environment, and avoid dangerous interference in the climate system,” said Dr. Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Science. “Nearly every country in the world, including the United States, has made commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is no time to be expanding production of coal, which is the dirtiest of conventional fossil fuels. Every new coal project causes additional damage to human health and adds to effectively irreversible global climate damage.” 

Interior recently instituted a long-overdue moratorium on new federal coal leasing while it conducts an environmental review of the federal coal program’s impacts and evaluates potential reforms.

In the United States, coal is the largest and most carbon dioxide-intensive conventional fossil fuel resource, with federal coal making up approximately 41 percent of total U.S. coal production. In addition to its climate impacts, coal mining and burning causes well-documented harms to public health and biodiversity.

As the scientists’ letter notes, a rapid phaseout of coal emissions is needed to hold global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius or well below 2 degrees Celsius, the climate targets the United States committed to under the Paris Agreement in December. The letter highlights that human-caused climate change is already causing widespread damage and that “fossil fuel emissions must be phased out globally within the next few decades” to avoid dangerous and potentially irreversible impacts.

“Top climate scientists are speaking out about the need to end public coal leasing once and for all, and President Obama would be wise to heed their warning,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes no sense for the federal government to undermine the climate fight by letting companies dig up more of this incredibly polluting fossil fuel from our public lands.” 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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