As Coal Industry Teeters, Obama Halts Coal Leasing
January 16, 2016
The Obama administration, in the first major review of the country’s coal program in three decades, on Friday ordered a pause on issuing coal-mining leases on federal land as part of new executive actions to fight climate change.
The halt could last three years, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters, while officials determine how to protect taxpayers’ stake in coal sales from public lands and how burning coal could worsen climate change.
“We have an obligation to current and future generations to ensure the federal coal program delivers a fair return to American taxpayers and takes into account its impacts on climate change,” Jewell said on a conference call.
Federal land accounts for over 40 percent of U.S. coal production. Most leases are on public land in Western states, primarily Wyoming, along with Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
The review, the administration’s latest move to combat climate change using executive authority rather than wait for congressional action, comes at a tough time for the industry.
Since 2012, more than 50 coal companies have filed for bankruptcy in the face of competition from cheap natural gas and clean-air regulations that have raised costs for burning the fossil fuel.
The moratorium comes just days after Obama said in his State of the Union Address that he would push to change the way the government manages its oil and coal resources to reflect the costs they impose on both taxpayers and the planet. The moratorium takes place immediately, but does not halt coal mining and production currently underway.
“How do we manage the program that is consistent with our climate change objective? There is no short answer,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said during a news conference. “It is also clear that we need to take into account the science we have now on the environment and climate change.”
About 40 percent of all the coal produced in the U.S. comes from mines on federal public lands, mainly in the West. As of the end of 2014, there were 308 active coal mining leases on more than 464,000 acres of public lands in Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Montana and Colorado, with an additional 10,500 acres in Kentucky, Alabama and West Virginia.