January 11, 2017 Categories: Climate Change Fossil Fuels

Enough Already: A Roadmap For Reforming the Federal Coal Program

In one of the final moves by the Obama Administration, the Department of Interior has released its scoping plan for a programmatic environmental review of federal coal leases on public lands. Today’s scoping plan completes the first step in the process of reforming the federal coal leasing program to better protect American taxpayers, and to finally, for the first time, take full account of how federal coal affects our climate, health, and communities. It creates a roadmap for how to reform this outdated program.

We are confident the full review that this scoping plan recommends will find what we have known for years: digging up and burning coal is incompatible with a healthy climate. But only if we continue to hold the next administration accountable and make sure that they complete the process.

NextGen Climate America, along with nearly 200,000 Americans, provided comments to the Department of Interior calling for major changes. We provided technical analysis that shows that existing coal leases already make more coal available than we can ever safely burn. Thanks in part to this analysis and the support of thousands of individual commenters, Interior has recommended ways that the coal program can be reformed to help bring it into alignment with our shared commitment to maintaining a safe and healthy climate.

Interior recommends the careful analysis of 4 reform options, including ending the practice of issuing new leases altogether or else limiting leases to a level that is consistent with a scientifically-determined budget of how much more carbon our climate can withstand. Both great ideas!


Coal taken from federal lands that belongs to the American people makes up over 40% of all coal burned in the United States. When this coal is burned, it is a major source of dangerous carbon pollution and other toxic chemicals that cause heart attacks, asthma, and other health problems. Americans with low incomes, elderly people, and people of color suffer the most from these impacts. What’s more, this coal is sold to coal companies at below-market rates that help to prop up the coal industry at the expense of taxpayers.

This scoping plan proposes a closer look at how several common-sense reforms would help to better protect taxpayers and our environment, but the Trump administration is already promising to go back to the bad old days of providing limitless handouts to coal execs at the expense of Americans’ health and our economic well-being. For now, there is a moratorium on issuing new federal coal leases. The next Secretary of the Interior must leave the coal leasing moratorium in place as the review goes forward, complete the environmental review process, and implement long-overdue reforms.

Federal coal leases are also a giant taxpayer-funded giveaway to big polluters. In June 2012, the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis reported taxpayers lost nearly $30 billion in revenue over the last 30 years from allowing coal extraction below market value. Our public assets are practically given way for free in exchange for catastrophic climate altering emissions. And while coal companies have relied on government subsidies for over a century – and enjoyed having many government officials as their personal concierges – coal is still being out-competed by cheaper, cleaner energy.

The next Secretary of the Interior should face the facts, take coal leases off the table for good, and plan for our transition to clean energy. Rather than trying to preserve a dying industry that has been on taxpayer funded life-support for years, we should focus on developing the energy system of the future and investing in the people and the workers who have for far too long suffered under Big Coal’s pay-to-play manipulative politics.

Workers and families throughout America have been left behind as coal companies strip our land of valuable minerals only to pull up stakes, break their promises to clean up after themselves, and leave workers without pensions, healthcare, or any means to earn a living as the market turns to cheaper, cleaner energy sources. Meanwhile coal company executives have awarded themselves massive bonuses while their companies spiral into bankruptcy. This must stop.

The next Secretary of Interior has the unique opportunity and the profound responsibility to protect our climate, our workers and our future by saying once and for all: the time for coal has passed.

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