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RP Siegel headshot

Obama Administration to Curb Coal Mining on Federal Land

Words by RP Siegel

Last summer, I wrote about the exploitation of a massive chunk of federal land -- mostly out West -- that comprises about a quarter of the continental U.S.

The land is being leased to coal companies for next to nothing. This, of course, encouraged massive coal development, as it was no doubt intended to do, with all of the collateral damage implications. That includes 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the past six years, all without compensating taxpayers or assessing appropriate costs for environmental impact. It was only when several groups filed a lawsuit challenging this practice that the government seemed to acknowledge that it was going on. As much as 40 percent of the coal mined in the U.S. comes from these lands.

Now, the Obama administration is responding at last. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave a speech last week in which she promised to initiate a green reform agenda.

“Our task by the end of this administration is to put in place common-sense reforms that promote good government and help define the rules of the road for America’s energy future on our public lands," Jewell said. "Those reforms should help businesses produce energy more safely and with more certainty. They should encourage technological innovation. They should ensure American taxpayers are getting maximum benefit from their resources. And they should apply our values and our science to better protect and sustain our planet for future generations.”

The secretary went on to list accomplishments, including 52 commercial-scale renewable energy projects on public lands across the West that combine to produce 14,000 megawatts of clean energy. She also cited the surge in domestic oil production, which has grown from 5 million to 9 million barrels per day.

She went on to talk about offshore drilling reforms in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Then, on the subject of onshore development, she said emphatically that “the critical path to sustained and expanded resource development in North America includes effective regulation and a commitment of industry and regulators to continuous improvement in practices to eliminate or minimize environmental risk.”

Jewell spoke about the forthcoming federal fracking rule, and, on the subject of the coal leases, she said:

“We need to ask ourselves: Are taxpayers and local communities getting a fair return from these resources? How can we make the program more transparent and more competitive? How do we manage the program in a way that is consistent with our climate change objectives?”

Those are the right questions. The fact that the administration is asking them is good news, though some would argue that our climate change objectives require leaving most of that coal right where it is. What answers the administration comes up with remain to be seen.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) pointed out that the administration’s stance on fracking has progressively weakened. The latest draft rules garnered over a million public comments asking for reconsideration.

Both Sierra Club and Greenpeace praised the secretary’s comments about the coal leases, however, citing her serious tone and her call for an open conversation on the topic. We’ll give Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s land protection program, the last word here.

“Coal companies are making us sick, damaging our special places, and raking in windfall profits as American taxpayers are being cheated, and today’s speech from Secretary Jewell provides a critical signal that our leaders are getting serious about federal coal lease reform.

"Importantly, Secretary Jewell acknowledges that the coal program is inconsistent with President Obama’s climate objectives and that in order to protect our children’s health, we must keep dirty fuels in the ground and reform the outdated program. We commend Secretary Jewell for leading the Department of the Interior to support President Obama’s climate plan.”

Image credit: andrew bacha: Flickr creative commons

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com


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