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No New Federal Coal Leases: What Does It Mean for Montana?

Supporters are speaking out in favor of a complete review of the federal coal-leasing program .(Joe Belanger/iStockphoto)
Supporters are speaking out in favor of a complete review of the federal coal-leasing program .(Joe Belanger/iStockphoto)
January 21, 2016

HELENA, Mont. – Supporters of changes to the federal coal leasing program are speaking out, saying taxpayers should be getting a much higher return on coal mined from federal land, and that, going forward, the effects on the environment should be considered.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently announced a pause in new leases for coal on federal land, and a top-to-bottom review of the program.

Dan Bucks, retired director of revenue for the State of Montana, says there are a lot of long standing questions that still need answers.

"How does Interior ensure that they're getting a fair return for the taxpayer?” he questions. “Is there a way for the public to participate in an open leasing process?

“And are there ways of accounting for climate change impacts in the process of leasing coal?"

Bucks notes that coal has been leased on public land for decades at less than fair market value, and there's some question as to whether mining companies have put aside enough money for reclamation costs.

Critics worry that the changes will reduce coal production and cost jobs.

But Bucks says the federal government has already signed leases that will maintain coal production for the next 20 years.

"It's really an opportunity for Montanans who either support or have questions about coal, it gives them all an opportunity to have a say," he points out.

There will be public meetings this spring about revising the leasing program, and the Interior Department says it will produce an interim report by the end of the year.

The full review is expected to take three years.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT