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Biden ending new leases in America's top coal region

A giant truck hauls coal at a mine in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming
Stephanie Joyce
Wyoming Public Media
A giant truck hauls coal at a mine in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming

In a pair of controversial environmental decisions, the Biden administration is moving to end all new coal leasing in the country's largest producing coal region, the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.

The announcement Thursday by the federal Bureau of Land Management is in response to a lawsuit by environmental groups and is expected to face protests from the industry and coal producing states including Wyoming. In the agency's final environmental study, the BLM's Buffalo, Wyoming field office ruled that new coal leasing would have significant impacts on human health and the climate, due to the coal being burned at power plants.

Environmentalists called the decision a victory, estimating that it would keep six billion tons of "highly polluting coal in the ground."

"The BLM released a common sense plan that reflects the reality of today's coal markets," said Mark Fix of the Montana-based Northern Plains Resource council, in a statement.

The new rule won't shut down the coal industry in the region as companies can still move to develop federal leases that have already been issued. But it comes at a time when Wyoming's coal industry has been struggling to find new markets as many west coast cities have banned coal-based power generation.

Wyoming is the nation's top coal producer, accounting for 41% of the country's total supply. West Virginia is second at 14%.

In a statement, Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso accused the Biden administration of "waging war on Wyoming's coal communities and families."

"This will kill jobs and could cost Wyoming hundreds of millions of dollars used to pay for public schools, roads, and other essential services," he said.

The Thursday decision follows a court ruling earlier this year that overturned a broad Obama-era ban on new coal leasing.

In Wyoming, meanwhile, groups have thirty days to file formal protests against the recent BLM Powder River Basin decisions.

Copyright 2024 NPR

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.