Westerners overwhelmingly support common sense coal reform

Sep 29, 2016

Black Thunder Coal Mine in Wyoming

Ecoflight, flickr.
Out of hundreds of thousands of comments on federal coal leasing reform, nine out of ten support reforms to safeguard western communities.

Yesterday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that they had received hundreds of thousands of public comments from Westerners in support of federal coal leasing reform. Based on an analysis by The Wilderness Society, 91% of all petitions and comments supported the BLM’s work to update the 30-year-old regulations governing our federal coal program.

Like The Wilderness Society and other advocates that put western communities first, westerners’ comments focused on issues such as royalty rate reform, accountability around cleanup on public lands, accountability for climate pollution, and the need for federal land managers to consider the public interest when leasing lands.

“Community leaders, small business owners and working families in the West are concerned about loopholes that help coal companies avoid millions of dollars that should go to local schools, roads and bridges. They’re also concerned about their drinking water, and the coal industry’s failure to clean up its messes in westerners’ backyards,” said Pam Eaton, a senior director of The Wilderness Society in Colorado. “One thing is especially clear after this comment period: The American West can’t afford to wait reform our broken, generations-old coal program.” 

Hundreds of thousands of comments were aimed at:

  • Coal companies should be held accountable for the promises that they have made to clean up coal mines. Through various mechanisms, coal companies have promised to reclaim past mines, but too many of them have not. The federal government should not continue to lease to coal companies that shirk responsibilities to the American taxpayer.
  • Royalty rates need to be reformed and raised to reflect the real value of our public lands. The increased value of federal lands, as seen through increased tourism, recreation and conservation. Royalty rates, which have not been raised in decades, need to be raised to a level that mirrors how Americans value their land and resources.
  • Coal companies should no longer be in charge of where, when, and how federal coal gets leased. Instead, federal land managers should make decisions based on a variety of factors to ensure that the public interest is being served when federal coal is leased.
  • Climate change has to be a factor when considering when and where coal gets leased, and coal companies should have to avoid or mitigate for climate impacts during extraction and development, and pay in some way for the inevitable damage that coal does to the climate.
  • Coal workers and communities should receive support and assistance as electricity markets shift away from coal.

The BLM plans to produce a “scoping report” based on the public comment period and its own experts by the end of 2016.  The scoping report will inform its ongoing work on a Coal Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Coal PEIS).



Pam Eaton, Senior Director for Reducing Carbon Emissions, Denver, CO, pam_eaton@tws.org, 303-802-1400

Tony Iallonardo, Energy Communications Director, Washington, DC, tony_iallonardo@tws.org, 202-429-2699