Judge reinstates Obama-era ban on coal sales from federal land

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A federal judge on Friday reinstated a moratorium on coal leasing from federal lands that had been implemented during the Obama administration.

The ban was lifted under former President Donald Trump.

Friday’s ruling from U.S. District Judge Brian Morris requires government officials to conduct a new environmental review prior to resuming coal sales from federal lands. The judge said the government’s previous review of the program during the Trump administration had not adequately considered the climate damage from coal’s greenhouse gas emissions, among other effects.

Almost half the nation’s annual coal production is mined by private companies from leases on federal land, mainly in Western states, including Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

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Coal combustion for electricity is one of the top sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions despite a number of power plants shutting down over the past decade over concerns about pollution and changing economic conditions.

According to government data, the coal program raked in about $400 million to federal and state coffers through royalties and other payments last year. The program is responsible for thousands of jobs and has the backing of industry representatives, GOP members of Congress and officials in coal-producing states.

President Joe Biden had suspended oil and gas lease sales in his first week in office, although such a move was later blocked by a federal judge. And environmental groups pressured him to take similar action against coal.

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Last year, the Biden administration began a review of climate damage from coal mining on federal lands as it increased scrutiny of government fossil fuel sales that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. However, no changes were announced because of that review.

“This decision gives the Biden administration the opportunity to make good on its commitment to seriously battle the climate crisis,” Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine, who represented environmental groups and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in the case, said of the ruling. “No progress has been made to reform the program or do what’s needed to phase out existing leases.”

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But National Mining Association President Rich Nolan said the industry lobbying group would appeal the ruling.

“This is a deeply disappointing decision with energy-driven inflation, energy affordability and energy security top concerns for Americans,” Nolan said. “Denying access to affordable, secure energy during an energy affordability crisis is deeply troubling.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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