With the abundance of alternative energy sources available at our fingertips, coal mining seems a little archaic. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar disagrees — at a press conference on Tuesday he promoted the federal government’s recent approval of public land to be used for coal mining in Wyoming. The new strip mines will be located in the Powder River Basin, and are thought to yield 758 million tons of coal over the next 20 years.

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A supporter of the expansion of nuclear power in the United States, Salazar claims that additional coal mining will curb our country’s dependence on oil from Libya or the Middle East. The auction of the new land to coal mining companies would also yield a staunch $13-$21 billion in bids and royalties, half of which would go to the state of Wyoming, and the other half to the federal government.

Wyoming’s Powder River Basin area is responsible for providing 40% of the nation’s coal, with more that 400 million tons being mined per year. Although the industry provides countless jobs, the area is also responsible for a whopping 14% of the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Salazar emphasizes that the Obama administration is still committed to exploring and building more renewable energy plants, specifically wind and natural gas. But the WildEarth Guardians environmental group is not satisfied with this partial plea, and is currently challenging two of the proposed leases for coal on the grounds of environmental change. Thus far, the auction plans for the land have not been interrupted.


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