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Salazar opens 758 million tons of Wyoming coal to mining

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced plans Tuesday to auction off vast coal reserves in Wyoming over the next five months, unleashing a significant but controversial power source.

The four coal leases next to existing strip mines in the Powder River Basin — the largest coal-producing region in the United States — total 758 million tons and will take between 10 and 20 years to mine.

Last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill raised questions about offshore oil drilling and the current Japanese nuclear power plant crisis has renewed concern about nuclear energy, but coal has its own baggage — especially when it comes to climate change.

About 40 percent of the nation's coal comes from Wyoming, and coal from the Powder River Basin used in power plants accounts for nearly 14 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Even so, the Obama administration remains committed to an "all of the above" energy policy that relies on a variety of renewable and nonrenewable sources, Salazar said.

The group WildEarth Guardians already is challenging two of the proposed coal leases in court on climate change grounds.

Boost for Wyoming

Selling the coal is expected to benefit Wyoming, bringing in $13.4 billion to $21.3 billion, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says. Nearly half of the money will go to the state.

Salazar opens 758 million tons of Wyoming coal to mining 03/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 12:13am]

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