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Groups Urge Reform, Support for Coal Workers During Moratorium

The U.S. Department of the Interior's announcement to stop new coal leases on public lands could have a big impact on workers. (Farber/Wikimedia Commons)
The U.S. Department of the Interior's announcement to stop new coal leases on public lands could have a big impact on workers. (Farber/Wikimedia Commons)
January 18, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wy. - Theo Spencer, senior policy advocate, Natural Resources Defense Council; and Connie Wilbert, director, Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter.

Groups working to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change say they'll double down on organizing efforts after Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced a sweeping overhaul of how publicly-owned coal is managed.

Theo Spencer,senior policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the three-year review process is an opportunity for people who care about public lands, clean air or climate action to keep coal, the largest source of climate pollution, in the ground.

"These are public lands, and fortunately this overhaul is going to be a public process," says Spencer. "So there's going to be plenty of opportunity for people to do what they need to do to get their points of view in to the Department of Interior."

The National Mining Association and some politicians denounced the move and said the moratorium imposed on new leases for coal on public lands could lead to job loss and block access to low-cost energy. Spencer says the industry has at least 20 years worth of coal under current leases and says the sooner a serious transition to clean energy begins, states that rely on coal will see more sustainable jobs come on line.

Solar already employs 77 percent more people than coal, according to a new report by the Solar Foundation.

Connie Wilburt is the Sierra Club's Wyoming director. She says state leaders need to help communities dependent on coal weather the transition and diversify the economy by tapping the region's abundant renewable resources.

"Change is always difficult," says Wilburt. "It's not an uncommon human reaction to try to cling to what's familiar. We've had big economic changes in this country before and we adapt, we adjust. And that's really what we're faced with now."

The Center for American Progress also is mobilizing after the announcement. In a release, the group said priorities for the overhaul should include reducing climate pollution, making sure taxpayers get a fair return when publicly owned coal is mined, and holding companies responsible for cleaning up their mining operations.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY