The Interior Department temporarily banned new coal leases on public lands during the Obama administration, citing concerns about climate change. The administration also ordered mining companies to pay the government higher royalties and eliminated a loophole that coal companies selling to foreign buyers often used to avoid paying as much in royalties. The Trump administration is more sympathetic to mining companies. Led by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Montanan, it is working quickly to reverse those measures and may reduce the number and footprint of wilderness and historic national monument areas that are off-limits for mining. On Aug. 7, the department officially repealed the Obama-era rule that effectively required oil, gas and coal extractors to pay more royalties to federal and state governments, Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post. The Trump administration stayed the rule in February.
Richard Reavey, the head of government relations for mining company Cloud Peak Energy, said he was glad for the recent increase in coal production and exports, following a major decline last year. Cloud Peak operates several open pit mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, the nation's most productive coalfield, which accounts for 85 percent of all coal extracted from federal lands. It ships coal to power plants in the Midwest and Asia. Because so many U.S. coal-burning plants have shut down, Reavey said, overseas markets were the only way mining companies can grow. By restricting federal lands, the Obama administration's goal, "in collusion with the environmentalists, was to drive us out of the export business," Reavey told the Times.
|Map by WildEarth Guardians|
The cash-strapped local Crow tribe is more optimistic about the future of coal in the region, since they signed an agreement with Cloud Peak in 2013 to allow the company to extract up to 1.4 billion tons of coal from the tribe's lands. "The tribe estimates the Cloud Peak operations could generate $10 million in payments for a community where the unemployment rate in June was 19.4 percent, five times the state average," the Times reports. "Coal, for us, is the ticket to prosperity. We are rich in coal reserves. But we are cash poor," the tribe's vice secretary Shawn Backbone told The Times. But Cheyenne Donna Fisher says preserving the area is more important. "We are wealthy in life here," she said. "We don’t have money. But we have land, water and air. Snuff that out and we are gone."