Detailed in a press conference by U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell, the “pause,” as she referred to it, will allow time for the government to study coal’s benefits as well as environmental impact.
“It is abundantly clear that times are different than they were 30 years ago, and the time for review (of the coal leasing program) is now,” Jewell said, adding that the department wants to look at new scientific data related to climate change. “[It’s] not a pause on coal production” in its entirety, she noted in the announcement.
While it is still unknown how stoppage will impact U.S. production in the long term, the chance for immediate affects is low.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees federal lands and the accompanying leases that allow for mining on respective parcels, said this programmatic review will evaluate concerns already brought forth by the Government Accountability Office, the DOI’s inspector general, members of Congress and the public. Its evaluation will be compiled into a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS).
The PEIS will kick off with public meetings in the near future. An interim report is expected late this year and the entire evaluation is projected to take three years.
“[The PEIS] will take a careful look at issues, such as how, when and where to lease; how to account for the environmental and public health impacts of federal coal production; and how to ensure American taxpayers are earning a fair return for the use of their public resources,” the agency said.
Jewell said in her announcement that the administration knows that coal “will continue to be an important domestic energy source in the years ahead” across the nation.
“We haven’t undertaken a comprehensive review of the program in more than 30 years, and we have an obligation to current and future generations to ensure the federal coal program delivers a fair return to American taxpayers and takes into account its impacts on climate change.”
Pending leases that have already completed an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and received a final Record of Decision or Decision Order by a federal agency under existing outlines will be permitted to complete the final steps to secure a lease or lease modification, the BLM said. While the moratorium is in place and after it is lifted, operators will be able to continue mining reserves already under lease, which the agency estimated to be 20 years of sustained production at current levels.
Jewell called the stoppage of significant new leases a “prudent step” and said those leases will benefit from the recommendations it will put forth in the final findings. In the meantime, the administration will make “accommodations…in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs.”
“We are undertaking this effort with full consideration of the importance of maintaining reliable and affordable energy for American families and businesses, as well other federal programs and policies,” she said.
About 40% of all U.S. coal production comes from federal lands. Much of that occurs in Wyoming as well as other western states including Montana, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.
Under current outlines, in place since 1976, the government takes a 12.5% royalty on coal’s sale price. Additionally, a $3 per acre fee annually is split between the state where the leased tract’s mining is occurring and the U.S. and state government.