On Friday, April 19, 2019, a U.S. District Court issued a decision barring the Department of the Interior (DOI) from proceeding with federal coal leasing until it has completed its programmatic review. DOI started preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) of the federal coal program in 2016. At that time, coal leasing was put on hold until the review could be completed. In 2017, the DOI removed the moratorium on coal leasing and stopped the PEIS process, but the court found that DOI’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.
The review of the federal coal program was intended, in part, to address concerns that the program had failed to provide a fair return to taxpayers for decades. On March 28 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to “amend or withdraw” the coal moratorium. In response to the President’s Executive Order, Secretary Zinke issued a Secretarial Order the very next day, lifting the moratorium on coal leases without intimating additional analysis of the federal coal leasing program or addressing the issues that prompted the 2016 PEIS process. The court’s ruling asserted that the current administration failed to adequately assess the consequences of lifting the moratorium on coal.
Current leasing practices, fair market calculations, royalty rates, and even how the value of the coal is determined, have led to massive revenue losses for the U.S. treasury. The DOI should take this as an opportunity to update the federal coal program and implement policies that ensure a fair return for federal taxpayers before it moves forward with additional leasing.