US proposes ending new federal leases in nation's biggest coal region

US proposes ending new federal leases in nation's biggest coal region

US proposes ending new federal leases in nation's biggest coal region

The Biden administration has proposed an end to new coal leasing from federal reserves in the most productive coal mining region of the U.S. The move announced Thursday would limit future climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fuel

ByMATTHEW BROWN Associated Press

May 16, 2024, 1:45 PM

    BILLINGS, Mont. -- The Biden administration on Thursday proposed an end to new coal leasing from federal reserves in the most productive coal mining region in the U.S. as officials seek to limit climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fuel.

    The Bureau of Land Management proposal would affect millions of acres (millions of hectares) of federal lands and underground mineral reserves in the Powder River Basin area of Wyoming and Montana.

    The immediate impact is likely to be limited because coal leases take many years to develop and demand has flagged in recent years. But the proposal drew a harsh pushback from Republicans in Congress, coming just weeks after the Biden administration unveiled an air quality rule that could force many coal-fired power plants to reduce their pollution or shut down.

    Thursday's proposal was made in response to a 2022 court order that said two federal land management plans drafted for the Powder River Basin during the Trump administration failed to adequately take into account climate change and public health problems caused by burning coal.

    In response, the Biden administration is issuing plans that would stop further coal leasing in the region while preserving existing leases. The plans are subject to a 30-day public protest period before they become final.

    Federal officials said they anticipate coal mining to continue from existing leases through 2041 in Wyoming and through 2060 at a mine in Montana.

    However, another Montana mine, the Spring Creek Mine, could run out of federal coal reserves by 2035 — more than 50 years earlier than if leases were to continue being issued, according to a government analysis of the proposal.

    Fourteen active coal mines in the region in 2022 produced almost 260 million short tons of coal — about 40% of total U.S. production.

    Yet mining volumes already had dropped by almost half over the past two decades as competition from renewable energy and cheap natural gas shuttered many coal-fired power plants served by the mines.

    Mark Fix, a southeast Montana rancher and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council conservation group, said the Biden administration proposal was a “commonsense plan” given the current state of the coal market.

    “Coal companies in this region already have decades of coal locked up under leases, and it's hard to imagine they'll find buyers that far into the future given the competition from more affordable energy sources,” Fix said.

    Wyoming's congressional delegation responded with outrage, characterizing the proposal as an assault on domestic energy sources that will kill coal jobs and cost the state millions in lost revenue.

    “Wyoming has been targeted left and right by rule after rule handed down by this administration,” said Wyoming Republican U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis. “Wyoming coal is needed now more than ever to power our nation and the world.”

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