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Trump Administration Opens Public Lands To New Coal Mines, But Don't Expect A Boom

Photo of the truck at the mine
Peabody Energy
A dragline and haul truck at the North Antelope Rochelle mine on BLM land in Wyoming — the largest coal mine in the world.";

The Trump administration controversially reopened public lands to new coal leases on Wednesday, saying the move won’t significantly impact the environment — a finding conservation groups call laughable. 

“Offering leases for new coal mining certainly has an environmental impact,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director of the nonprofit Center for Western Priorities. “We’re talking about mine expansions and greenhouse gas emissions from burning that coal.”

This is the second attempt by the U.S. Interior Department to lift the Obama-era moratorium on new coal leasing. It comes almost a year after the U.S. District Court of Montana ordered the agency to produce an environmental assessment on the potential impacts of reopening coal leasing on federally managed lands. 

The agency concluded in its final report that the move wouldn’t significantly exacerbate climate change or pollute the environment. 

“Under President Trump’s leadership, the Department of the Interior has ended the war on American energy and coal, which allows local communities to prosper,” Casey Hammond, the Bureau of Land Management’s acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in a statement. 

But lifting the pause on coal leasing probably won’t result in a mining boom across the Mountain West, according to Robert Godby, director of the University of Wyoming’s Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy. 

“It was not the moratorium or regulation that was sinking coal,” he said. “Coal is declining right now because there are cheaper ways to produce electricity.”

The United States and other countries are turning towards natural gas and renewable energy instead. Godby also predicts that conservation groups will file lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s environmental assessment, tying up this push for new coal leases in court once again.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Follow Nate Hegyi on Twitter @natehegyi.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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