NYT: Obama to ban new coal leases on federal land

President Barack Obama will announce Friday a ban on new federal coal leases, according to a report in the New York Times.

The story by veteran Times environment reporter Coral Davenport said that the move would come as part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s periodic effort to update policy relating to leasing and royalties.

Any executive order by Obama would rely on authority provided by the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

Coal production from lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service generated about $682 million in royalties during fiscal year 2015, according to data made available by the Department of Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue. Counting other fees and sources of income related to coal leasing, the federal government’s revenue from the program exceeded $1.2 billion in 2014. BLM alone leased more than 475 million acres of land for coal production during that year.

Federal coal leases generally allow production to occur for 20 years. Davenport’s story indicated that current levels of coal production from the federal estate would be likely to continue for about the same amount of time even if Obama acts to block new leases.

The President said during his State of the Union address on Tuesday that he would impose reform on the federal coal leasing program in order to assure that it takes account of the environmental cost of fossil fuel combustion. In addition, Interior secretary Sally Jewell said in a March 2015 speech that she thought “it’s time for an honest and open conversation about modernizing the federal coal program.”

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