“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” said Interior Department secretary Sally Jewell. “During this time, companies can continue production activities on the large reserves of recoverable coal they have under lease, and we’ll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs.”
The Interior Department estimates that the amount of coal reserves already under lease — that companies can continue to mine during the review — is enough to sustain current levels of production from federal land for approximately 20 years.
The review will look at the environmental and health impacts of coal mining and “how to ensure American taxpayers are earning a fair return for the use of their public resources,” according to the US Interior Department, which is conducting the review. It follows President Obama’s pledge to reform the federal coal-leasing program in his State of the Union on Tuesday. “I’m going 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,” he said.
The following day, in his State of the State address, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York will eliminate its use of coal power by 2020.
The review of the coal program comes as US coal production declined 11 percent in 2015 — the biggest decline on record — forcing major coal companies including Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources to file for bankruptcy.
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