As the coal industry struggles through a historic slump, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is taking public comment on how to tackle a major review of the public lands leasing of the carbon-rich fossil fuel.
As the coal industry struggles through a historic slump, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday held a meeting in Seattle to take public comment on how to tackle a major review of the public lands leasing of the carbon-rich fossil fuel.
More than 150 people signed up to speak, from environmental activists who urged that the coal be kept in the ground to head off a climate disaster, to politicians from Wyoming who said federal leasing generated revenue crucial to the state’s school system.
“We have chosen to invest those funds in our future, especially our kids,” said Wyoming state Sen. Bill Landen, a Republican, who said that coal money had paid for more than 70 new schools across the state and helped to update another 35. “I would argue today that we are receiving a fair return for our resources.”
Wyoming is, by far, the top coal-producing state in the nation, due largely to the federal leasing of rich seams in the Powder River Basin. Landen was part of a delegation from Wyoming which spoke out in support of the coal leasing program as an important U.S. energy resource and an economic foundation of their state.
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But in Seattle, the coal supporters were far outnumbered by coal critics. Many speakers urged the Bureau of Land Management to shut down the coal leases over concerns about climate change driven by fossil-fuel combustion.
“I am a coal miner’s granddaughter. I’m proud of that heritage” said Beth Doglio, campaign director for Climate Solutions, a Northwest nonprofit. “I know for my children and grandchildren, we must transition away from coal.”
Others speaking out again coal leasing included ranchers and Native Americans from Washington, Oregon and Montana.
Over the past decade, BLM-managed lands produced some 4.3 billion tons of coal that, according to the agency, produced some $6.8 billion in royalties and $3.8 billion in rents, bonuses, and other payments.
The program has had plenty of critics who have questioned whether the BLM gets shortchanged as it sells the coal. Some critics have sued the agency for failing to fully account for the environmental costs of the fuel.
The review was announced in January by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who said it would be accompanied by “a pause” on issuing new coal leases. The review is supposed to include a more detailed look at the climate and public-health impacts of federal coal leasing as well as whether the government receives fair value for the coal.
The end result is supposed to be recommendations for reforms to the coal-leasing program. The Seattle meeting was the fourth of six that the BLM is holding around the country to hear public comment.
Just five years ago, the prospects for coal appeared bullish as global demand surged, prompting developers to propose export terminals in the Northwest to send coal to Asia. But coal’s prospects nose-dived in recent years as markets weakened and U.S. energy producers increasingly turned to natural gas and renewable forms of energy.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal production is forecast to decline by 17 percent in 2016, which would be the largest decline since record-keeping began in 1949.