By Divit Nehru
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Obama’s policies “have already ravaged coal country, destroying jobs and people’s way of life, and this will increase that suffering”. “This is a historic decision that greatly improves the world’s chances of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change”.
The department did not provide any details about the efforts, but government and conservationist sources have said the administration will freeze new coal mining in a further move to confront climate change.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is expected to make the announcement at midday Friday from New Mexico, one of five western states with tens of thousands of acres under lease. And at today’s production levels, those reserves wouldn’t run out for about 20 years, according to the Interior Department.
The Energy Information Administration says roughly 41 percent of USA coal production occurs on federal land.
Small exceptions to the moratorium will be made, mainly for emergencies, such as when a coal mine is threatened with closure if it has less than three years of coal reserves remaining, Jewell said.
“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 on a conference call.
The study is estimated to take three years, meaning it will not be completed by the time Obama leaves office. If there was a serious attempt to address the President’s climate change concern, the Administration should be investing, as Wyoming is investing, to make real improvements in carbon capture, sequestration and utilization technology. That program produces about 40 percent of all US coal: Virtually all coal mined west of the MS is technically owned by the federal government.
It’s unclear what impact the moratorium will have on US coal production, given the declining domestic demand for coal and the closure of numerous coal-fired power plants around the country.
Even so, environmental groups cheered the announcement.
The department will consider raising the royalty rates it charges mining companies, which critics have long criticized as too low and rife with loopholes.
Five leases at four Colorado mines “potentially subject” to the moratorium include now-shuttered Elk Creek Mine (with two), King II Mine, Bookcliffs, New Elk Coal Co.
Almost 90 percent of coal tracts leased by the Interior Department receive just a single bid, and royalty rates have remain unchanged since 1976. Historically, the United States has produced about one billion tons of coal per year.
“For Powder River Basin coal, the climate damages are five to six times greater than the average market value”, said Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, referring to the largest mining site on federal lands…
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