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Obama Halts New Coal-Mining Permits on Public Lands

The Obama administration has ordered a moratorium on issuing new or modified permits for coal mining on public lands. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Obama administration has ordered a moratorium on issuing new or modified permits for coal mining on public lands. (Wikimedia Commons)
January 18, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. - Environmental groups and clean-energy advocates in New Mexico and elsewhere are praising the Obama administration's move to suspend new coal mining on public lands. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued an executive order on Friday that puts a moratorium on new or modified permits and order a review of the federal coal royalty program.

Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, says the royalties paid by coal miners on public lands have been shortchanging the public for decades.

"Taxpayers may have lost upwards of $30 billion in revenues over the past 30 years," says Feibelman. "Money that would go to fund schools and roads and projects very local to the places where the coal extraction actually takes place."

Feibelman says beyond the environmental problems related to the mining and burning of coal, operators on public lands often use shell companies and other accounting tricks to pay royalties as low as $13 a ton, when the market rate is as high as $60 a ton. She says federal royalty rates for strip-mined coal have not changed in almost 40 years.

She says there are currently three major coal mines on public lands in New Mexico, all operating near coal-fired power plants.

"The main mines are San Juan Mine, which feeds the San Juan Generating Station," says Feibelman. "The Navajo mine that feeds the Four Corners Power Plant, and Lee Ranch, that feeds the Escalante Power Plant."

Feibelman says that about 40 percent of all the coal mined in the U.S. comes from public lands. She adds, the executive order does not affect coal leases that are currently in operation.



Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM