Bureau of Land Management Completes Action To Advance Responsible Coal Development
March 3, 2020 - Last week, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management completed a critical action to allow for responsible coal development on federal lands.
The BLM has released the final coal truck environmental assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for lifting the pause on processing applications seeking issuance of new coal leases. Federal coal leasing is a critical component to America’s energy security, job creation, and proper conservation stewardship.
“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,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond. “Coal is and will continue to be a critical part of our nation’s energy portfolio and we are committed to the responsible development of our abundant resources and advancing American energy independence, jobs, and economic growth.”
Coal production on federal lands provides nearly 40 percent of our nation’s coal. In Fiscal Year 2018, the economic contributions from coal produced on BLM managed lands brought in more than $10 billion and supported more than 32,000 jobs.
In March 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13783, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, which tasked the Administration to take important steps to promote clean and safe development of its energy resources, including coal. In response, the Department issued Secretary’s Order 3348, lifting the pause implemented by the previous administration, allowing the BLM to carry out Congress’s long-standing mandates for coal leasing set forth in the Mineral Leasing Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
The BLM prepared an EA in response to the U.S. District Court of Montana’s Order issued on April 19, 2019, regarding Citizens for Clean Energy et al. v. U.S. Department of the Interior et al. The district court ruled that Secretary’s Order 3348 constituted a major federal action triggering compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), despite the fact that to date no Secretary’s Order has required NEPA analysis. The BLM prepared the draft EA to be responsive to the district court.
The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement collaborated in the preparation of the draft EA evaluating the potential environmental effects of the issues and alternatives identified.
On May 22, 2019, the BLM released the Draft EA announcing a 15-day comment period that was extended to June 10, 2019. The BLM received 280 unique comment letters and 15 form letter campaigns. Form letter campaigns accounted for 47,666 comment submissions. Comments were received from individuals, groups, organizations, businesses, elected officials, Federal, state, and local government agencies, and Tribes.
The Lifting the Pause on the Issuance of New Federal Coal Leases for Thermal (Steam) Coal Final EA (DOI-BLM-WO-WO2100-2019-0001-EA), substantive comment responses as Appendix A to the Final EA and FONSI are available on the BLM’s ePlanning website at: https://bit.ly/2JQddtE.
Despite Congressional direction under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 – “an Act to promote the mining of coal, phosphate, oil, oil shale, gas, and sodium on the public domain” – in January 2016, former Secretary Sally Jewell issued Secretary’s Order 3338 pausing the processing of federal coal leases for thermal (steam) coal with several exemptions and exceptions. In addition, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, provides that public lands shall be managed in a manner that recognizes the nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals (43 U.S.C. § 1701(a) (12)). This statutory and regulatory framework does not provide explicit authority to pause BLM’s processing applications to lease federal coal deposits.