Future environmental review of coal lease proposals will include an assessment of the climate impact of each prospective mine. That’s the honest and rational way to confront the stark reality of climate change.

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WHEN he named Seattle resident Sally Jewell to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior three years ago, President Obama cited her expertise on climate, energy and stewardship of our public lands.

All three came together Friday when Jewell announced a badly needed overhaul of the program through which we make millions of acres of federal lands available for lease to private coal companies.

It shortchanges American taxpayers, to the tune of $1 billion a year. It’s ravaging public lands set aside for all of us to share. And it’s wildly out of sync with our climate and energy goals.

The plan Jewell announced Friday is meant to address these shortcomings. That calls for a deliberative and transparent process ensuring that every voice is heard, so we wind up with a public lands policy that faithfully reflects the public interest.

It’s important to freeze the program so we don’t make matters worse while we work to make this right. That’s why Jewell said there will be no new federal leases for coal mining during the three years or so the review is under way.

Former Assistant Secretary of the Interior Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group with 2.4 million supporters and activists nationwide.
Former Assistant Secretary of the Interior Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group with 2.4 million supporters and activists nationwide.

The review won’t affect existing leases, which can still provide U.S. coal needs for another 20 years.

Roughly 40 percent of the nation’s coal comes from federal lands. Yet corporations pay less for the fuel than the going rate on private lands. The difference has been worth some $30 billion over the past three decades.

It’s past time to end that fossil-fuel giveaway, especially when the result is often devastation to lands, waters and wildlife.

At a time when we’re grappling with the growing dangers of climate change, the last thing we should be doing is using taxpayer money to encourage the production of a dirty fossil fuel that is warming the planet and imperiling our future.

Future environmental review of lease proposals will include an assessment of the climate impact of each prospective mine. That’s the honest and rational way to confront the stark reality of climate change.

And here is the nub of the matter: We have just wrapped up the hottest year since global record-keeping began. Washington state and neighboring Oregon had their warmest years on record, as reduced winter snowpack and record heat took a devastating toll on salmon and contributed to the worst wildfire season in Washington’s history. All of this gets worse unless we cut carbon pollution created from burning coal, gas and oil.

That’s what the United States, China and nearly 200 other countries agreed to do last month in Paris when they put plans on the table to speed the global shift away from the dirty fossil fuels to cleaner, smarter energy options.

That means getting more power from the wind and sun. It means investing in efficiency. And it means creating modern transportation options — from all-electric cars to public transit and bike lanes — that improve the quality of our lives while striking a blow against climate change.

Our public lands are a public trust. We need to bring the use of these lands in line with our climate goals. That means phasing out, over time, the production of coal, gas and oil on our public lands. It means saying no to oil and gas drilling in Arctic and Atlantic waters.

We’ve got a long way to go. The plan Sally Jewell announced Friday, though, is a vital first step that deserves our support.