Resuming federal coal leasing helps restore balance, Zinke says

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is seen at the Interior Department in Washington, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Lifting the moratorium on federal coal leasing is “certainly a signal that the war on coal is over,” but not a promise that the coal industry will roar back, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said.

Zinke on Wednesday signed secretarial orders reversing the Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing and one requiring that the department balance climate-change policies “with the equally legitimate need of creating jobs for hardworking American families.”

Zinke also established a royalty-policy committee to advise Interior on the fair market value of federal mineral and energy leases, include renewable energy sources. Members of the committee will serve two-year terms and “I’m going to expect results in two years,” Zinke said.

Zinke’s action on the moratorium drew an immediate response from a coalition of environmental organizations, which sued to reinstate the moratorium contending that studies of the effects of coal mining on climate remain to be completed.

Lifting the moratorium will allow coal to compete unfettered in the marketplace against other fuels, such as natural gas, Zinke said, noting that there is a market in Asia for low-sulfur, high-grade coal.

At the same time, the prospect for natural gas is “very promising,” Zinke said in a conference call with reporters.

“We’re not in the business of picking winners and losers,” Zinke said. “The market should dictate.”

At the same time, lifting the moratorium is a sign that the administration is paying attention to new voices, he said.

“If you’re a smaller community, this is a sign of relief that smaller communities actually have a voice and that voice is being heard,” Zinke said.

The federal government will be an advocate for multiple use and work “not to be viewed as an adversary as we have been,” Zinke said.

Zinke also billed the steps as moves toward American energy independence, environmental responsibility and economic recovery.

The lawsuit to preserve the leasing moratorium was filed by EarthJustice on behalf of Citizens for Clean Energy, the Montana Environmental Information Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians and Defenders of Wildlife. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe also is challenging Zinke’s order.

The order “virtually gives away our beautiful public lands to the coal industry even as global warming drives up drought and wildfires across the West,” Michael Saul of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement, “To give our kids a shot at a livable climate, we’ve got to stop this bizarre plan.”


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