Obama administration takes next step in federal coal reforms

Climate-polluting emissions from a coal plant. 

Credit: Robert S. Donnovan, flickr.

Following its recent moratorium on coal leases on public lands, the Obama Administration has now announced it is diving into the next step of its review of the federal coal program.

On March 24, the Interior Department announced that it will begin a “Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement” to review how coal production on public lands impacts climate and whether it is providing a fair return to tax payers.

Thursday’s announcement comes after the January decision to pause all new coal leases on public lands while the administration takes a deep look at the outdated coal program.

This is a welcomed development, which signals a strong commitment to ensuring that our federal coal program is one that benefits all Americans.
The Wilderness Society has been working with the Interior Department to urge for such reforms, and these efforts to reform the federal coal program are good news for public lands.

“It is great to see the administration take action to modernize how the nation uses and manages the coal resources that are owned by all Americans," said Josh Mantell, Carbon Management Campaign Manager for The Wilderness Society. "It is long past time to shift away from a system that incentivizes and maximizes development on our shared lands, to one that takes into account publicly-owned coal’s cost to land, communities, taxpayers and our climate.”

The Wilderness Society is pleased to see that the administration recognizes that we cannot continue to dig, mine for and burn coal at the rates, pace and scale of the past, given what we know about its effects on our, land, air, water, wildlife and climate.

Coal production on public lands is destructive to wildlands, as seen here in the Power River Basin. Credit: WildEarth Guardians, flickr

The Interior Department will seek public input to ensure that our federal coal program fully takes into account costs to taxpayers, local communities and to the climate and environment, particularly on our public lands, which provide 40 percent of U.S. coal. This public coal contributes to 12 percent of America’s annual energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Six public meetings in May and June will gather feedback from all those who wish to have their voice heard in this important reform process. The public commend period ends on July 23.

The public meetings to discuss federal coal reforms will be held in:

  • Casper, Wyoming on May 17
  • Salt Lake City, Utah on May 19
  • Knoxville, Tennessee on May 26
  • Pittsburgh, Pensylvania on June 16
  • Seattle, Washington TBA; and
  • Grand Junction, Colorado on June 23

It’s been more than 30 years since our government looked at how we produce coal on public lands. As the reform process continues to move forward, it is only right that we demand transparency and input. This once in a generation look at the federal coal program is extremely important as we begin to modernize our energy development from public lands and transition to cleaner and renewable energy sources.

The Wilderness Society will continue to push to ensure that our federal coal program is brought into the 21st century. We must modernize the coal program if we are to move towards a clean energy future that ensures the health of wildlands and future generations of Americans.