Biden to end coal leasing in nation’s largest source


The Biden administration announced Thursday that it will end coal leasing on federal lands in the Powder River Basin, the single largest source of coal in the U.S., as the administration looks to limit greenhouse gas emissions, including from the dirtiest fossil fuel.

The decision was issued Thursday by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, and will ban leasing on more than 13 million public acres in the Powder River Basin, which spans Wyoming and Montana and accounts for nearly 50% of all U.S. coal production.

The news sparked fierce and immediate backlash from Republicans and mining groups in the Western states, which accused the Biden administration of waging war on coal producers in the region. It’s not clear, though, to what extent coal production — which has fallen by half in the last two decades — will be affected.

A federal court in 2022 upheld the BLM’s complaint that two public lands management plans drafted under then-President Donald Trump had failed to properly account for climate change or environmental harm caused by coal mining, and tasked them with creating a new Environmental Impact Statement for coal mining in the region.

In its final assessment Thursday, BLM said that continuing to lease federal acres for coal mining in the Powder River Basin would cause “significant harm” to public health and the climate. The new directive allows for current mining leases in the Powder River Basin to be preserved, which BLM estimates will allow for continued coal mining through 2040 in Wyoming and through 2060 at one mine in Montana.

In total, the decision stands to affect 14 total coal mines in the Powder River Basin, which produced a combined 260 million short tons of coal in 2022, or 44% of total U.S. production, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. 

Coal emissions in the U.S. have dropped 57% compared to their peak in 2005, according to the EIA. And the coal mines in the Powder River Basin are also producing less, yielding approximately 220 million short tons of federal coal in 2022, or roughly half of the amount produced in 2008.

Wyoming’s fully Republican congressional delegation — Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and Rep. Harriet Hageman — argued in a joint press release Thursday that the move will hurt their economy and fails to account for the importance of coal-fired power generation in the power mix. Twelve coal mines in Wyoming stand to be affected by the decision.

“I am horrified to see the Biden administration’s latest assault on our nation’s domestic energy production,” Lummis said. “This RMP will push our country to rely on foreign adversaries for energy needs at a time when our grid is pushed to the brim and Wyoming coal is needed now more than ever to power our nation and the world.” 

In this and other decisions, the lawmakers said, the BLM is refusing to acknowledge mining on its so-called multiple use framework under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act — a 1976 law that requires BLM to balance uses of public land for recreation, energy, mining, and agricultural interests in their states. 


Industry groups also criticized the decision, arguing that it could hurt energy security and force outsize reliance on less-efficient producers in other parts of the world.

“At a time of deteriorating grid reliability, soaring electricity demand and ongoing concern about global energy shocks, proposing a plan of no new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin is outrageous,” Rich Nolan, the CEO and president of the National Mining Statement, said in a statement Thursday. “This damages American energy security and affordability and is a severe economic blow to mining states and communities.”

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