Judge Resumes Obama-era Coal Lease Halt on Public Lands

Judge Resumes Obama-era Coal Lease Halt on Public Lands Judge Resumes Obama-era Coal Lease Halt on Public Lands (Evgeniy Parilov/Dreamstime.com)

By Charles Kim | Friday, 12 August 2022 07:03 PM EDT

A federal judge in Montana on Monday resumed a 2016 halt to mine coal on public lands enacted during the administration of then-President Barack Obama.

District of Montana Judge Brian Morris ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reinstate the moratorium that former President Donald Trump reversed after taking office in 2017 until such time as an environmental analysis can be performed, The Hill reported Friday.

Although President Joe Biden and his administration rescinded Trump's policy in January 2021, it did not reimpose the ban.

In an earlier ruling, Morris sided with a group of Native American tribes who questioned the environmental impact of the mining.

"BLM's [National Environmental Policy Act] analysis should have considered the effect of restarting coal leasing from a forward-looking perspective, including connected actions," The Hill reported that Morris wrote in a 2021 ruling. "The ‘status quo' that existed before the [then-Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke Order was a moratorium on coal leasing. Because the baseline alternative must consider the status quo, BLM was required to begin its analysis from that point."

According to the publication, coal mining on public lands accounted for around 40% of total U.S. production in 2015.

According to the BLM, the agency manages an energy portfolio including the production of coal, gas, oil, oil shale and tar sands, as well as green sources like solar, wind and geothermal, encompassing some 700 million acres throughout the nation, or about 30% held by the federal government.

The agency's history allowing the leasing of lands for coal mining goes back to the early 1900s when they were among the first laws passed by Congress to address the nation's mineral mining rights.

According to the agency, about 85% of all federal coal production comes from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.

The agency's focus is on making sure the American people get a fair market price in its leases to mining operations, and to make sure the companies comply with regulations.

After a two-year decline, the demand for coal increased sharply in 2021 by 9% and is expected to reach a record of 10,350 terawatt-hours this year with an increase in its use in the production of cement and steel, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

"Coal is the single largest source of global carbon emissions, and this year's historically high level of coal power generation is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a December 2021 report by that organization.

"Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions — in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected — we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C [34.7 °F]."

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