After completing the first major review of the country’s coal program in 30 years, the Obama administration recently announced a temporary stop on issuing any new coal-mining leases on federal land. The act is part of a new set of executive actions intended to combat climate change.
The decision came just three days after President Obama promised to “push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet,” in his State of the Union Address.
According to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the halt could last up to three years. In the meantime, officials will evaluate how to protect taxpayers in coal sales on public lands, and how burning coal could worsen climate change.
“We haven’t undertaken a comprehensive review of the program in more than 30 years, 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,” Jewell said in a statement.
Coal mined by private companies from federally owned land accounts for about 40 percent of all coal produced in the U.S. Most coal on private lands is in western states, such as Wyoming and Montana. A 2013 Interior Department report found that taxpayers were losing millions of dollars in revenue each year because the Bureau of Land Management was selling coal leases at low prices.
Environmental groups have pushed for an end to fossil fuel leases for years, claiming that allowing coal mining on public land goes against Obama’s climate change agenda. While the halt on coal-mining is a good start, some believe that the administration still should do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
“Any good-faith effort to meet international climate targets necessitates that the vast majority of all remaining coal, oil and natural gas on federal lands must stay in the ground,” said Elijah Zarlin, director of climate campaigns at activist group CREDO.
The halt does not apply to existing coal production, and allows for emergency leases if more are needed for power generation. However, according to Jewell, this shouldn’t be necessary, as current reserves under lease contain enough coal to continue current levels of production for 20 years.
This halt marks the first in a series of actions by the President to combat climate change, which he hinted at in his State of the Union Address, saying: “We’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.” Within the Obama administration, 2016 just might be the year for clean energy.