Former President Barack Obama is long gone from office, but a 2016 ban his administration imposed on coal leases on federal lands is back in place after a Friday court ruling that reinstated it.
Coal mined from leases on federal land makes up almost half the nation’s annual coal production. Private companies do the actual mining in states such as Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.
“This decision is a step backwards that doesn’t protect the environment and ensures consumers will pay more for energy. Enacting a moratorium at a moment when coal is badly needed to ensure a secure and reliable energy supply is wrong-headed on many fronts,” Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said in a statement, according to the Kilgore News-Herald.
“This decision is bad for Wyoming. It hurts our country’s ability to provide reliable, low-cost energy to Americans and hinders the abilities of companies to plan and invest in new technologies like carbon capture and utilization.”
The 2016 ban had been reversed by the Trump administration in 2017. That prompted a lawsuit, according to The Washington Post.
In 2019, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled against the Trump administration, saying a National Environmental Policy Act review was required to lift the ban.
In April 2021 Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland threw out the Trump-era policy but did not reinstate the ban, leading to a return to court in which environmental groups called for Morris to order the ban reinstated to ensure coal could not be mined on federal lands at some future date, Reuters reported.
Morris gave the groups a win Friday.
“The Haaland order maintains the potential for environmental harm that could result from lifting the coal leasing moratorium, however, that the Court determined required NEPA review,” Morris ruled, according to Bloomberg.
“A live controversy persists because the coal leasing moratorium, and associated environmental protections, established by the Jewell Order, remains revoked,” Morris wrote. “The Haaland order has not returned the status quo that existed under the Jewell Order — i.e. a moratorium non-coal leasing with some exceptions.”
Reaction to the ruling was divided.
“This decision gives the Biden administration the opportunity to make good on its commitment to seriously battle the climate crisis,” said managing attorney Jenny Harbine of Earthjustice, the self-described “premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization.” Harbine represented several environmental groups and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.
“No progress has been made to reform the program or do what’s needed to phase out existing leases,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, National Mining Association President Rich Nolan saw the ruling differently.
“This is a deeply disappointing decision with energy-driven inflation, energy affordability, and energy security top concerns for Americans,” Nolan said. “Denying access to affordable, secure energy during an energy affordability crisis is deeply troubling.”
The National Mining Association said it would appeal the ruling.
Coal mining “supports thousands of jobs,” The Post reported, and leases generated about $400 million in federal and state revenue last year.
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