No new coal leases in MT, WY Powder River basin

This month, the Biden administration took another coordinated step toward the demise of coal by closing off the U.S.’ largest coal supplier to new leases.

The Powder River Basin, in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming, is a pillar of Wyoming’s economy. In 2019, just 16 mines in the region produced 43% of U.S. coal, which is overwhelmingly used for electricity production.

The Bureau of Land Management released a final supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) after a district court case in 2022 found that BLM had failed to sufficiently address public health consequences of coal production, including emissions. BLM was required to redo its analysis. Attorneys from “Earthjustice, the Western Environmental Law Center, and Sierra Club,” litigated the 2022 case and are applauding the outcome of this month’s redo.

The new analysis had to consider “no leasing and limited coal leasing alternatives,” and “disclose the public health impacts, both climate and non-climate, of burning fossil fuels (coal and oil and gas) from the planning areas.”

BLM selected the “no future coal leasing alternative,” rather than the no-action or limited-leasing options. Existing federal coal leases in the region may still be developed, which the agency estimates will allow production at Wyoming mines through 2041. Under the no-action alternative, which would have allowed for the entire body of recoverable coal in the region to be considered for leasing, coal production could have continued through 2338, or 314 years from now.

The SEIS considered “air quality, greenhouse gases, climate change, public health, socioeconomics, and environmental justice” in its analysis.

Rep. Harriet Hageman wrote in a joint statement with Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis (all R, Wyo.):

“This decision to eviscerate Wyoming’s coal production will impact every American’s access to affordable and reliable energy, and only benefits the despots and dictators that this administration now relies on to meet our energy needs, while further weakening our economy and national security.”

Although public comments have ended, the final SEIS allows a 30-day protest period for “any person who participated in the planning process” and “has an interest that is or may be adversely affected.” All protests must be received on or before June 17, 2024.