US sets moratorium on new federal coal leases

US sets moratorium on new federal coal leases

Fresh shot to the heart of the US coal industry. (Image from archives)

US President Barack Obama announced Friday his administration has placed a moratorium on new leases for coal mined from federal lands as part of a sweeping review on the government’s management of vast amounts of taxpayer-owned coal throughout the West.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell unveiled the temporary halt, saying it was time for a re-examination of the decades-old coal-leasing program, from health and environmental impacts to whether US citizens are getting a fair return for the hundreds of millions of tons of government-owned coal that is mined and sold each year.

“We haven’t undertaken a comprehensive review of the program in more than 30 years,” Jewell said, “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.”

In addition,the Interior Department said it'd also review coal's public health impacts.

Once again, environmentalists welcomed the initiative. “President Obama has taken a major step to move us away from coal and accelerate the transition to clean, renewable energy, and we applaud his leadership,” Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard said.

“An honest, comprehensive review will show that we don’t need to prop up desperate and outdated coal companies with any more giveaways, and instead should keep coal in the ground,” she added.

"Markets have changed since the 1980's. The coal industry is shrinking, and it will continue to shrink for the foreseeable future,” Tom Sanzillo, director of finances for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said.

He noted that coal does have a future — one that includes fewer companies and less mining to supply a much smaller number of coal-fired power plants.

Today’s announced review of the federal coal program, expected to take about three years, comes the same week that President Obama hinted of coming reforms to federal energy policy in his State of the Union address.