Why the Sierra Club Owns a $2.2 Billion Coal Reserve

Through a series of legal maneuvers associated with a coal giant's bankruptcy, the Sierra Club made good on a conservation opportunity worth $2.2 billion and weighing 53 million tons.
July 29, 2016, 7am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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This won't be happening anytime soon.
Jim Parkin

Environmental nonprofits like the Nature Conservancy regularly purchase tracts of land to save them from industry and development. But this time, the Sierra Club and its allies made out even better, taking control of a 53 million-ton coal reserve that will now stay in the ground. 

The U.S. still sits on massive supplies of coal, but the past several years have seen equally massive setbacks for the coal industry. Faced with regulatory pressures and lawsuits, companies like Alpha Natural Resources face bankruptcy. Those proceedings can give legally-savvy environmentalists a chance to strike.

In this case, a consent decree charged Alpha to complete a $150 million cleanup by 2019. Resource-rich but cash-poor, the company agreed to give up some of its land holdings instead, reserves worth a whole lot more than the cleanup cost. Daniel Gross writes, "The deal offered the nonprofits ownership of the Rostraver reserve, a seam of coal in 35,000 acres of forest and farmland in Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. At today's prices, 53 million tons of Northern Appalachian coal are worth about $2.2 billion."

Gross doubts whether the Sierra Club will be able to pull this off a second time, but it definitely points to a whole realm of possibility for conservationists.

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Published on Monday, July 11, 2016 in Slate
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