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Coalition Calls on Obama Administration to Move Quickly on Coal Reform

Protecting Climate, Helping Communities Transition From Fossil Fuels Needs to be Paramount

Denver—A broad coalition of environmental advocacy groups today called on the Obama Administration to protect the climate, help communities, and move quickly on reforms that keep publicly owned coal in the ground in the U.S.

“We are writing to urge the Department of the Interior to move forward as expeditiously and effectively as possible with its reform and environmental review efforts,” said the coalition.  “As the agency does so, we call on you to ensure this process is guided by a simple, yet critical principle: that to effectively protect our climate and help our nation transition to clean energy, we have to start keeping coal in the ground.”

In January of this year, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a moratorium on leasing new publicly owned coal and the initiation of an updated environmental review of the entire federal coal program. 

The move came in response to mounting pressure and controversy over the climate and economic impacts of mining more coal.

In a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, over a dozen local, regional, and national organizations urged the Interior Department to adopt additional interim reforms, to get moving on its environmental review, and to start involving the public in the process.

The group also called on the Secretary, “ to explicitly acknowledge that the paramount goal of long-term reform is to chart an orderly and effective path toward ending the federal coal program.”

Among the interim reforms called for: greater transparency; a pause on reducing royalties that industry pays for coal production; limits on coal mine methane releases; an end to letting coal companies avoid paying mine clean up guarantees; accounting for carbon costs in future leasing and mining; and securing economic support for communities to transition from coal.

In her January 2016 announcement, Secretary Jewell already signaled her support for a number of additional interim reforms.  Today’s letter urges the Secretary to follow through with her commitments.

“We urge you to undertake additional near-term reforms to ensure the integrity of long-term federal coal reform efforts and to demonstrate to the American public the Administration’s commitment to success,” said the letter.  “These near-term reforms must include a commitment to prioritize providing support and assistance to help communities that are currently heavily reliant upon the federal coal program transition to more sustainable and prosperous economies.”

The Interior’s management of publicly owned coal has saddled the world with tremendous climate costs and shortchanged American taxpayers through loopholes and breaks to the coal industry.  Coal leases have recently sold for less than $1.00 per ton and companies have avoided paying billions in mine reclamation guarantees.

By subsidizing coal development, the Interior Department has opened the door for a climate disaster.  40% of all coal produced in the U.S. comes from publicly owned leases, primarily in the western U.S.  All told, coal produced from these leases is responsible for 11% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the Secretary’s moratorium on new leasing promises to keep 1.8 billion tons of coal in the ground and prevent the release of more than 3.4 billion metric tons of carbon (more than half of all yearly U.S. greenhouse gas emissions), the moratorium still allows hundreds of millions of tons of coal to be mined.

The group today urged Sally Jewell to commit to completing its environmental review and adopting new reforms within three years, and to invite broad public involvement in the process.  The group urged the Secretary to hold a number of public hearings, to kick off a formal comment period, to create a website dedicated to informing and inviting the public to weigh in, and to ensure full engagement and consultation of tribal interests.


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