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U.S. Department of the Interior to Consider Ending Coal Mining on Public Lands

WildEarth Guardians Applauds Agency's Move to Confront Climate Impacts of Federal Coal Production in American West

Denver—WildEarth Guardians today commended the U.S. Department of the Interior for committing to consider putting an end to the mining of coal from public lands in order to safeguard the climate.

“We’re pleased to see the Interior Department acknowledging the reality of climate change and offering the American public meaningful solutions to limiting carbon pollution and advancing clean energy,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “For our future and our health, it’s time to stop sacrificing our public lands to the coal industry; it’s time to keep our fossil fuels in the ground.”

After years of controversy, in early 2016 the Interior Department imposed a moratorium on new public lands coal leasing and set in motion an environmental review of the federal coal program.  Citing the decline of the fossil fuel industry and the link between federal coal and U.S. carbon pollution, the Interior Department announced its intent to consider new reforms to address the environmental and economic consequences of federal coal production.

In a report released today detaining the Interior Department’s next steps in its review, the agency announced it intends to consider an end to leasing publicly owned coal in order to address the climate impacts of the federal coal program.

Interior explained:

Under a no leasing alternative, the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] would issue no new leases for Federal coal, except for lease modifications within the defined acreage limitations (960 acres or less). Existing coal already under lease would not be impacted. Administration of existing leases would remain unchanged, including existing royalty rates and rental rates. The BLM may also consider combining the no new leasing alternative with other reform options aimed at modernizing the administration of existing leases as part of separate reform packages or alternatives.

The agency also announced it intends to consider other reforms, including increased royalty rates and stronger environmental safeguards related to coal mining.

Coal mined from publicly owned deposits, which are primarily located in the American West, is responsible for more than 11% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Burned in power plants from coast to coast, this coal is tied to massive amounts of air pollution that costs society billions of dollars in health and environmental damages.

An analysis by WildEarth Guardians last year found that in relation to carbon costs, federal coal production inflicts more than $160 billion in climate damages every year.  All told, if unleased publicly owned coal is leased and mined, nearly $50 trillion in climate damages could be thrust upon society.

Ending federal coal leasing would effectively put an eventual end to the mining of publicly owned coal, preventing these climate damages and opening the door for extensive clean energy development.

While the incoming Trump Administration has vowed to implement an agenda of climate denial, lift the moratorium on new leasing, and derail reforms of the federal coal program, today’s report by the Interior Department underscores the consequences could be dire.

“The Interior Department today has made clear that if we have any chance of safeguarding our climate, we have to consider putting an end to mining publicly owned coal,” said Nichols.  “No politician can change the reality of our climate crisis, the need to curtail carbon, and the imperative for moving away from fossil fuels to clean energy.” 

According to the Interior Department, its environmental review is expected to be completed by early 2019.


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