Three environmental groups are suing the Bureau of Land Management in federal court over the recent leasing of two tracts of coal in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife filed a lawsuit Aug. 16 against the agency in federal court in Washington, D.C., over the environmental effects of the 350 million tons of coal contained in the tracts.

The groups contend the BLM didn’t properly conduct its assessment of the environmental impacts of mining, transporting and burning the coal.

The Belle Ayr North tract, which contains 221.7 million tons of coal, sold to a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy July 13. The Caballo West tract, which contains 130.1 million tons of coal, sold to a subsidiary of Abingdon, Va.-based Alpha Natural Resources Aug. 17.

“Alpha and Peabody are coal companies, and we can’t expect them to look out for anything other than their bottom line,” said Adam Kron, staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, in a news release. “But BLM is a federal agency and a steward of our public lands and has no excuse for approving this reckless and short-sighted deal.”

The BLM didn’t return a request for comment Monday.

The companies bid against each other for the two leases. Alpha’s $143.4 million bid for the Caballo West tract — at $1.10 a ton — set a record for the highest amount offered per ton in the basin. The tracts are between Alpha’s Belle Ayr mine and Peabody’s Caballo mine.

The groups say the coal from the two tracts is enough to fuel 152 coal-fired power plants and would release 643 million tons of carbon dioixide, or the same amount as that released by 111.7 million passenger vehicles a year, using EPA calculations.

The groups’ lawsuit is the most recent legal action they’ve taken to block leasing of coal in the Powder River Basin.

In May, a federal judge dismissed without merit the groups’ lawsuit against the leasing of nearly 400 tons of coal in a two tracts near Cloud Peak Energy’s Antelope mine.

The BLM followed the same procedures with these two tracts as with leases offered for bid in the past, and the environment has been well protected, said Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

“It’s disappointing. It’s clear they’re just using any avenue they can to try to delay the leasing and continued production of coal from Wyoming but anyplace,” he said.

Reach Jeremy Fugleberg at 307-266-0623 or jeremy.fugleberg@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom/ and follow him on Twitter: @jerenegy.

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