Federal Coal Leasing Comes Under Fire in Conservationists' Lawsuit

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Conservation groups sued the government Tuesday to force officials to undertake their first broad review of the federal coal-leasing program in decades and consider how burning the fuel contributes to climate change. The lawsuit from Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils is being paid for by the philanthropic foundation of Microsoft founder Paul Allen. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The plaintiffs said there hasn't been a comprehensive review of the government's coal program since 1979. That was before climate-changing greenhouse gases produced by burning coal emerged as a significant public concern.

More than 40 percent of the roughly one billion tons of coal that is mined annually in the U.S. comes from beneath federal lands in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Montana and other Western states. About 475,000 acres were leased out to companies through the end of 2013. The coal industry has defended the federal leasing program, which in 2012 brought in $876 million in royalties and almost $1.6 billion in bonus payments on lease sales, according to the Interior Department.

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