Today, the administration announced its renewed effort to address the harmful impacts of federal coal leasing on public land. The notice, which was published in the Federal Register, kicks off a 30-day public comment period and seeks help in identifying the potential environmental, social, and cultural impacts of coal leasing on lands and communities.
“This notice is an important start,” said Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice senior attorney. “But as we saw from the United Nations report last week, time is limited. The administration must move quickly to address harm from federal coal development and stop new leasing. If they don’t, we are prepared to head back to court.”
The Interior Department previously found that coal mining fouls the air, pollutes streams, and destroys wildlife habitats on public land. Past estimates found that than one-tenth of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the pollution driving climate change, come from federal coal. Although the Biden administration has frequently acknowledged a need to address greenhouse gas emissions from federal fossil fuel production, there has been little attention on coal. Today’s announcement is a first step to closing that gap.
The Department of Interior first initiated a federal coal-program review in 2016, when then-Secretary Sally Jewell imposed a moratorium on most new coal-leasing, citing a need to avoid unnecessary environmental harm while the review was conducted. The Trump administration halted the review and re-opened federal public lands to coal leasing in March 2017. A U.S. District Court in Great Falls, Montana, ruled in April 2019 that the Trump administration’s decision to end the leasing moratorium broke the law because it did not account for the environmental harm from its decision. However, the court did not reinstate the moratorium. Represented by Earthjustice, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and conservation groups — along with the States of California, New Mexico, New York, and Washington — have continued legal efforts to stop new leasing until the lawful environmental review takes place. That litigation is on hold until January 2022 while the Department undertakes the coal-program review, although the plaintiffs have said they would revive the litigation to stop any new coal leases that may be issued.