Last Friday, the Obama Administration announced that there will be a three year moratorium on authorizing leases for coal mining on federal land. The decision is in the wake of both environmental and pricing concerns around coal leases. The BLM has been constantly scrutinized for its pricing of public land leases with concern that artificially low prices destabilize the market as well as deny potential profits to the American taxpayers. While many are concerned about coal workers being put out of a job, this does not effect the more than 350 current coal leases1 covering over 475,000 acres* of public land.
While this may sound like a big move, coal leases on federal land have been closing at a higher annual rate than they have been authorized since 1982.2** There is a lot of anxiety for job security, such as Montana’s Governor, Steve Bullock, protesting “once again Montana’s working families are left bearing the brunt of [President Obama’s] unilateral action.” Yet, in Montana only two coal leases were authorized in the last three years combined3.
As dire as such sweeping actions may seem, this coal moratorium only effects those looking to establish new coal leases in a time when such a market has already been decelerating for decades. The Coal Fields will continue to keep current with the state of coal mining leases as information is updated.
1 “US Coal Leases by State.” The Coal Fields. https://thecoalfields.com/usa
2 “US Coal Leases Disposition Over Time.” The Coal Fields. https://thecoalfields.com/usa/leases-disposition-over-time
3 “Montana Coal Leases Disposition Over Time.” The Coal Fields. https://thecoalfields.com/usa/montana/leases-disposition-over-time
4 “Coal Operations.” Bureau of Land Management. http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/energy/coal_and_non-energy.html
5 “The Bureau of Land Management: Who We Are, What We Do.” Bureau of Land Management. http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/About_BLM.html
6 “Total Federal Coal Leases in Effect, Total Acres Under Lease, and Lease Sales by Fiscal Year Since 1990.” Bureau of Land Management. http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/energy/coal_and_non-energy/coal_lease_table.html
* According to the BLM website: “BLM has responsibility for coal leasing on approximately 570 million acres where the coal mineral estate is owned by the Federal Government.”4 This is out of a reported “700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate”5 also by the BLM. While news agencies have been quoting “570 million” in the context of active mining, this appears to be a point of confusion on the part of the reporters failing to distinguish between active leases versus coal deposits. Just because a coal deposit is being managed by the BLM, that does not necessarily mean that it is also being leased and mined by an entity. As of 2014, the BLM reports 475,171 acres6 of land leased for coal.
**The coal lease scandal of 1982 flooded the market with coal and dramatically dropped the commodities value and lead to increased regulation of the coal leasing system. With the single exception of 2012 when 15 claims were authorized and 11 were closed.