US gov’t downplays effects of coal mining on public lands

Bear Run coal mine is the US’ largest surface mine. (Image courtesy of Peabody Energy.)

The resumption of coal mining on public lands in the United States will result in a negligible increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the Trump administration has told those opposing the decision.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, an exhaustive environmental assessment conducted by the agency found no significant impact from lifting the temporary ban on coal leases, imposed under former President Barack Obama.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, the Department of the Interior has ended the war on American energy and coal, which allows local communities to prosper,” Casey Hammond, the acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in the statement

“Coal is and will continue to be a critical part of our nation’s energy portfolio and we are committed to the responsible development of our abundant resources and advancing American energy independence, jobs, and economic growth,” Hammond added. 

Opponents accuse the Trump administration of producing a flawed analysis of the federal coal program that ignores its broader impacts

Opponents accused the administration of producing a flawed analysis of the federal coal program that ignores its broader impacts.

“The result of this environmental review was cooked from the start — the Trump administration tried to end the coal moratorium three years ago, but was so sloppy that a judge told them to try again,” The Center for Western Priorities’ Jennifer Rokala said in an emailed statement.

Trump first attempted to end the Obama-era ban in 2017, but a federal judge ruled last year the policy did not include sufficient assessments of its potential environmental impacts and asked for those to be provided. 

Despite the ruling, federal coal sales resumed before the three-year review begun under Obama was complete, with many claiming the scheme — which leases land for coal production at a discount — had in the past only benefitted lobbyists and executives, not the public.

“[Former US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s] order terminated the pause (on coal lease sales) approximately two years ahead of schedule,” officials wrote. “Because there is no basis for concluding that the Zinke order would result in a change in the amount of coal production or associated impacts in the long term…there would be no difference in cumulative (greenhouse gas) emissions.”

About 40% of US coal production comes from federal lands. Those operations, according to official figures, supported more than 32,000 jobs in fiscal 2018. 

Mining companies have extracted 4 billion tonnes of coal from federal lands over the last ten years, generating $10 billion in revenue to state and federal governments.

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