In a 76-page letter sent July 29 that also included 4,179 pages of attachments to back up his positions, Gov. Mead voiced his strong disagreement with the moratorium, which began on January 15, calling it an attempt by the Department of the Interior (DOI) to bypass Congress and impose a carbon tax. Moreover, he added, he and state regulators were not made aware of the plans.
“States like Wyoming, where coal is produced and environmental stewardship is a model for the nation, were not consulted and were caught by surprise,” Mead wrote in his letter. “Now, national revenues, energy users across the nation, coal miners and their families are at risk. The justification for this moratorium and the manner it was unveiled are unjustifiable.”
Mead noted that the moratorium will have a significant impact on jobs as well as the nation’s energy security and independence. He has also previously said the DOI should already know “the federal coal program is not broken” and that the moratorium “sets a course with no objective and no end.”
To put the issue in scope, Wyoming produces 40% of the nation’s total coal production; 80% of that stems from mining on federal land.
“The BLM needs to stop the PEIS [Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement], but at a minimum, it needs to commit in writing what it has promised repeatedly, that the PEIS will be completed by January 15, 2019, and, completed or not, that the moratorium will expire on that date,” Mead said. “I will continue to oppose the administration’s unjustified approach to coal.”
During mid-July, a group of nine U.S. senators from across the nation’s coalfields have issued a letter to Jewell calling on the agency to suspend both its review of the current federal coal program and the moratorium placed earlier this year on new coal leases.
The letter, signed off on by Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Steve Daines of Montana, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah, and John Hoeven of North Dakota, was delivered July 14.
In it, the group said it has concerns over the report, “The Economics of Coal Leasing on Federal Lands: Ensuring a Fair Return to Taxpayers,” which was released on June 22, stressing that the White House report has “prejudiced” the outcome of the DOI’s evaluation of the program. That influence is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it said, because by law the review “shall serve as the means of assessing the environmental impact of proposed agency actions,” not justify decisions that have already been made.
“The Council of Economic Advisers’ report has effectively turned the BLM review of the federal coal program into a pre-baked cake,” the senators said, noting that the council is an arm of the Executive Office of the President and that its chairman is President Barack Obama’s chief economist and plays a significant role in administration policy.
“Its report shows that the White House has already decided that the federal coal program does not provide a fair return to the public or adequately account for externalities and to increase coal royalty payments,” it added.
The senators are now calling on Jewell personally to suspend the development of the PEIS for the remainder of the administration to ensure its findings are not simply justifying those premade decisions.
“A failure to do so will only make the PEIS and decisions purportedly based on it vulnerable to legal challenges,” wrote the senators.