Energy. Environment. Economy.

Obama administration halts new coal leases on federal lands

A train loaded with coal from the Powder River Basin travels through northeast Wyoming. Most of the federal coal leases are in Wyoming's Power River Basin.

AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File

A train loaded with coal travels through northeast Wyoming. Most of the federal coal leases are in Wyoming's Power River Basin.

As part of the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to combat climate change, the Department of Interior announced Friday it will temporarily halt new coal leasing on federal lands.

“There was broad agreement the federal coal program was in need of modernization,” says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The leasing moratorium will be in place while agency engages in a three year review to examine royalty practices, transparency issues, and climate change goals.

“I want to be clear the pause does impact existing mine operations,” says Jewell. “This is not a pause on coal production.”

The move does not directly affect Pennsylvania, which does not have any federal coal leases, according to the Bureau of Land Management. However it was quickly criticized by Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, a trade association representing the industry. Pennsylvania is the nation’s fourth largest coal-producing state.

“The global demand for coal is projected to continue to grow as developing nations are hungry for affordable, reliable electricity,” said Coal Alliance CEO John Pippy in an email. “We should be leading the global energy market by investing in research and development of carbon capture and utilization technologies to capitalize on one of our most abundant resources, rather than doling out short-sighted policies aimed at ‘keeping it in the ground.”

Coal has been hit hard in recent years with mounting costs from tougher environmental regulations and competition from cheaper natural gas. However it remains the nation’s largest source of electricity. Forty percent of the nation’s coal production comes federal lands, and most of that is located in Wyoming’s Power River Basin.

As environmental regulators here work to develop a plan to comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Governor Tom Wolf’s administration has promised coal will be “part of the mix.” State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley says he is interested in exploring technologies to keep harmful coal emissions in check.

“We are dusting off some work that is vintage Rendell administration. We did some of the most advanced work in the country on carbon capture storage and utilization,” he said at recent press conference. “We need to take that work to the next level.”


  • karen orlando

    Hasn’t natural gas recently surpassed coal in certain months as the nation’s leading source of electricity due in large part to fracking which you report on a lot?

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