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Federal Coal Lease Reform Moves Forward

coalThe Obama administration is moving forward with its overhaul of the federal coal program.

Yesterday, the US Department of the Interior issued a Notice of Intent to conduct a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which begins a formal review of the program.

“As we undertake this review, we look forward to hearing from the public on a wide range of issues, including how, when and where to lease federal coal, how to account for the environmental and public health impacts of federal coal production and how to ensure that American taxpayers earn a fair return for the use of their public resources,” said Bureau of Land Management director Neil Kornze.

Interior Department secretary Sally Jewell said in January the department would stop issuing new coal mining leases on public lands as it conducts a review of the federal program. Her announcement followed President Obama’s pledge to reform the federal coal-leasing program in his State of the Union.

Environmentalists cheered the review while energy companies and the US Chamber of Commerce contend the coal-lease moratorium will increase businesses’ electricity costs.

“Another day, another front on the war on coal from this administration,” says Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the US Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. “If the president wants electricity rates to skyrocket — as he once said he did — he’s on the right path.”

As part of the PEIS, a series of six public meetings will be held to solicit input to inform the scope of the review. The meetings are currently planned to be held in May and June in Casper, Wyoming; Grand Junction, Colorado; Knoxville, Tennessee; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Seattle, Washington. Final information on dates, times and locations of the meetings will be announced soon.

“Coal will continue to be an important domestic energy source in the years ahead and we are undertaking this effort with full consideration of the importance of maintaining reliable and affordable energy for American families and businesses,” Kornze said. “But we haven’t undertaken a comprehensive evaluation of the federal coal program in more than 30 years. It’s time for a top to bottom review.”

The Interior Department will release an interim report on the PEIS by the end of 2016 with a summary of comments received and conclusions from the scoping process about alternatives that will be evaluated. It expects the full review to take about three years.

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