US proposes end to federal coal leasing in Wyoming Powder River Basin

By Thomson Reuters May 16, 2024 | 2:17 PM

(Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday proposed an end to future coal leasing on federal lands in Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the nation’s most productive coal-producing region, in part because of the sector’s emissions that worsen climate change.

The two proposals from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management respond to a 2022 federal court order requiring the agency to analyze the climate and public health impacts of burning fossil fuels in its land use plans for the areas.

The plans would not affect existing leases, and production would continue at mines in Wyoming until 2041 and in Montana until 2060, BLM said.

The agency noted the sharp decline in coal production in the region since its peak in 2008. Powder River Basin mines produced 258 million short tons of surface coal in 2022, down from 496 million in 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration. Wyoming accounts for most of that production.

Most Powder River Basin coal is used for electricity generation. EIA projects that by 2050, U.S. coal-fired generating capacity will be less than half of 2022 levels as the nation shifts to cleaner sources.

The decision marked a win for environmental groups that sued the agency to stop new coal leasing in the region.

“For years, conservation groups have litigated to get to this point — arguing that the federal government cannot simply lease away our public lands to coal companies while ignoring the impacts to public health,” Drew Caputo, an attorney with Earthjustice, said in a statement. “We are grateful that the Biden administration has shown the courage to end coal leasing in the Powder River Basin and at long last turn the page on this climate-destroying fuel.”

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said the decision would kill jobs and reduce revenues his state needs for schools, roads and other services.

“President Biden continues to wage war on Wyoming’s coal communities and families,” Barrasso said in a statement.

The release of the draft plans will kick off a 30-day comment period. BLM said it will approve the plans after resolving any protests or complaints during that time.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Aurora Ellis)