Trump expected to sign away public lands to coal leasing, unraveling Obama's reforms

Trump could blatantly disregarded years of work to reform the federal coal program and opened up lands for new coal leasing. 

Gage Skidmore, flickr.

Trump is expected to issue an order to roll back coal reforms, but the move is unlikely to help ailing coal communities.

Just over a month into his presidency, President Trump is expected to roll back Obama-era reforms aimed at ending coal company sweetheart deals and decreasing pollution from dirty coal production associated with the federal coal program.

“Lifting the moratorium is a shortsighted move by President Trump that won’t help the hurting coal communities of the West.” said Chase Huntley, Energy and Climate Program Director. “The federal coal program is rigged, and must be fixed before moving ahead with more leases.”

“Lifting the moratorium is a shortsighted move by President Trump that won’t help the hurting coal communities of the West.”

In an anticipated flurry of executive orders aimed at killing environmental policies, Trump’s executive order would end a pause in coal leasing on federal lands, effective immediately. This would come just a few weeks after Trump signed a bill to kill critical protections against coal companies dumping waste into waterways.

Trump era officially begins—how we will defend our wildlands

The order would likely ignore Interior Department recommendations made in early January and could shut down progress towards ensuring coal companies pay their fair share to taxpayers. It would also backtrack our nation's transition away from the fossil fuels that hasten climate change. Trump’s actions would stop decades of work to initiate the first reform to the federal coal program in more than thirty years.

Unrealistic promises to coal miners

Trump’s expected actions fit into a broader—and totally unrealistic—pledge to revive the coal industry, ignoring market factors and reduced coal use. Even President Trump’s most outspoken supporters in the coal industry realize this is futile. Murray Energy CEO, Bob Murray was recently quoted saying, “I’ve asked President-elect Trump to temper his comments about bringing coal miners back and bringing coal back. It will not happen.”

Action opens most public lands to coal leasing

President Trump’s energy plan on the White House website prominently features opening public lands for fossil fuel production—the coming action on federal coal will treat the land like a piggy bank at the expense of the planet.

The Alton Coal Mine in southwestern Utah could be expanded, despite its proximity with Bryce and Zion national parks. Photo: SUWA

The predicted order from Trump could ramp up coal leasing that threatens cherished landscapes. That may include the expansion of the Alton Coal Mine in southwestern Utah between Bryce and Zion national parks. Expanding this coal strip mine on public lands by five times its current size would increase pollution from blasting, digging and hauling coal all hours of the day, diminishing the views at Bryce National Park.

Trump reverses coal reforms that help taxpayers

Trump’s anticipated coal order would attempt to paper over major flaws in the federal coal program we’ve known about for decades. The coal program is currently set up to benefit coal companies through subsidies and loopholes, while harming lands, taxpayers and the climate.

The order could very well ignore a set of recommendations from the Interior Department made just a week before Trump’s inauguration. Among those recommendations are that the government:

  • Increase royalty rates from coal extracted from public lands and end self-bonding to ensure a fair return to taxpayers
  • Require coal companies to pay for carbon pollution impacts
  • Require coal companies  to clean up their environmental messes
  • Build more transparency and accountability into the federal leasing program

If President Trump moves forward with new coal leasing before the Interior Department fixes this broken system, he will show little regard for coal communities, the American people or our lands and waters. Coal mining scars the landscape, damages the climate and offers too little in terms of long-term stability for local communities in return. A significant contributor to climate change, coal burned from public lands contributes to 13 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Public lands have been leased by coal companies at rock bottom rates. Reforms by the Obama administration would have given taxpayers a fair return on their money. Photo: Mason Cummings/TWS

Trump would also ignore the wishes of the American public, who weighed in overwhelmingly in favor of coal reforms. In fact, 91 percent of the quarter-million comments submitted during a recent public comment process initiated by the Interior Department supported reforms.

We need to keep up the fight 

We are at a crucial juncture in the process of reforming how we develop energy on public lands. Recent progress to transition to a clean energy future could quickly unravel with an extreme focus on fossil fuel extraction. Trump is likely to take the first step of what could be many that threaten American conservation and hasten climate change.

During the Trump presidency, we may be in for an unprecedented challenge. Help us defend wildlands by becoming a member of our team to preserve our wild places from attacks from Trump and his fossil fuel friends in Congress.


Join SWAT (Stop Wilderness Attacks by Trump)