WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration says it's halting new coal leases on federal lands until it completes a comprehensive review. The question is whether fees charged to mining companies provide a fair return to American taxpayers and reflect coal's impact on the environment.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Friday that companies will continue to be able to mine coal reserves already under lease. Jewell says the coal leasing program has not been significantly changed in more than 30 years. She says it needs to be modernized to ensure a fair return to American taxpayers and to account for climate change.

Roughly 40 percent of the coal produced in the United States comes from federal lands. The vast majority comes from Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.

The reactions from Wyoming political leaders has been immediate, and predictably negative...

Governor Matt Mead...

"Today the Department of Interior announced a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. The moratorium will remain in place until a programmatic environmental analysis is completed.
“This Administration’s attempts to suppress the use of coal have largely been through Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The Regional Haze rule, the mercury and air toxics standards (MATS) rule, the Clean Power Plan – these are some but not all the regulations we have fought. Today’s move – imposing a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands - goes beyond EPA regulation,” Governor Matt Mead said. “It could not be more plain – in fact, it is starkly apparent - this Administration is no friend to coal when it flatly says there will be no new coal leases until some indefinite point in time.”
Governor Mead further said, “The Administration’s move today is drastic and uncalled for. Not only will it hurt miners and all businesses that support coal mining, it will take away all the competitive advantage coal provides to every U.S. citizen. If there was a serious attempt to address the President’s climate change concern, the Administration should be investing, as Wyoming is investing, to make real improvements in carbon capture, sequestration and utilization technology. One such example is the Integrated Test Center which will accelerate clean coal technology, benefiting not only the industry but a great many people everywhere who rely on coal for their energy needs.”
Governor Mead continued, “To the extent Administration officials have environmental concerns, our world-class reclamation efforts are here for all to see, and I invite Secretary Jewell and BLM Director Kornze to visit Wyoming coal country.”
Wyoming coal producers pay - federal mineral royalty, Wyoming severance tax, Abandoned Mine Lands, Black Lung Tax, Ad Valorem Property, Ad Valorem Production, and Lease Bonus Application. The industry has an effective tax rate of 40%. All of these revenue streams go to the public in various ways. Governor Mead challenged the Administration to name another industry with an effective 40% tax rate."

Senator Mike Enzi...

“Let’s call this what it is. It’s an economic assault on Wyoming and all those in America who work in or who are associated with an industry that supplies the largest share of our electricity. This isn’t some good government efficiency measure or about trying to deliver a “fair return to American taxpayers”. That’s a sham. The president decided a long time ago he wanted to destroy the coal industry and this is about wanting to make coal more expensive and less accessible. This is nothing more than the latest tenet of what is sadly the most successful program of this president’s administration: the war on coal.

“People in my state are angry that their own president is out to destroy their livelihood. I’m saddened by it. A good Administration would not pit different sectors of American energy against each other. I would seek the best ways to make them all thrive so that America can prosper in the face of global competition and threats. Out west where federal coal is mined, there isn’t a question about the value of this program. I will fight alongside the state of Wyoming and its communities to ensure that one of our state’s most valuable resources is protected.”

More From KOWB 1290