On Friday, President Obama announced that all new mining leases on public land would be halted pending a program overhaul, marking yet another blow against dirty energy. The move follows on the heels of his state of the union address, in which Obama pledged to look at the out-of-date program, which essentially subsidizes fossil fuel and hastens climate change at the tax payer’s expense.
David J. Hayes, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Deputy Secretary of the Interior, issued the following statement after the announcement was made: “We are making tremendous progress toward building a cleaner energy future and tackling climate change, but the federal coal program is frozen in time in the 1980s. The current rules, which were written when you could still smoke on airplanes and dump sewage in the ocean, neither deliver a fair return to taxpayers nor account for the pollution costs that result from coal mining. President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell are absolutely right to launch this comprehensive review and to set the federal coal program in a more fiscally and environmentally responsible direction.”
In 2014, coal mining leases paid out to the government $1.2 billion dollars in royalties and land lease fees. But many believe that the rate of return has been depressed because the process of leasing the land is done behind closed doors and on a closed market. An overhaul of this system could, at the very least, raise the amount of money that the country makes on leasing public lands. This would help shift the cost of mining further onto fossil fuel companies, many of which have already been struggling in recent years.
“This program is broken, outdated, and does not consider the threat of climate change in our communities, and thanks to the Obama Administration’s leadership, we can proudly say that big coal’s destructive reach over our public lands is coming to an end,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in a statement. “For decades, coal companies have ripped 400 million tons of coal from our public lands every year, burning it in power plants, slowing clean energy development, hastening climate disruption, and polluting our communities. In reforming the federal coal leasing program and accounting for the full cost of coal on our health and our climate, President Obama and Secretary Jewell are saying that the American people no longer have to pay for this outdated, dysfunctional, and destructive program with their health or their wallets.”
Republicans have criticized Obama, saying that he has waged a war on coal after the President used executive power to limit carbon emissions from coal plants. This latest move is a sign that Obama isn’t afraid to continue the battle. The bad news is that coal companies can continue to mine if they have existing leases, which means that things can continue as they have been for at least 20 years.