Democratic Governor Slams Obama’s Moratorium on Coal Production Leases on Federal Lands

By Penny Starr | January 18, 2016 | 1:10pm EST
A mechanized shovel loads coal onto a haul truck at the Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek mine near Decker. (AP Photo)

( – Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, issued an audio statement over the weekend reacting to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s announcement Friday that the Obama administration will halt issuing leases for coal production on federal lands.

“President Obama is wrong,” Bullock said in an audio statement posted on the local public radio station, “and once again Montana’s working families are left bearing the brunt of his unilateral action.

“Of course American taxpayers should get their fair value from coal leases, and of course, there should be transparency in the process,” Bullock said, “but you don’t shut down a program just to tinker with it. You fix as you go.

“As this process moves forward, I am going to demand Montana has a seat at the table,” Bullock said.

“Even as our nation transitions to cleaner energy sources, building on smart policies and progress already underway, we know that coal will continue to be an important domestic energy source in the years ahead,” Jewell said in a
press release issued on Friday about the review of coal operations on federal land.

“We haven’t undertaken a comprehensive review of the program in more than 30 years, and we have an obligation to current and future generations to ensure the federal coal program delivers a fair return to American taxpayers and takes into account its impacts on climate change,” she added.

“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” Jewell said.

The New West website posted on Saturday reaction from other stakeholders in Montana.

“This announcement comes as no surprise from an administration that seems hell-bent on forcing the coal industry to come to a screeching halt,” Bud Clinch, executive director of the Montana Coal Council, said in the article. “This is devastating news for Montana.

“About half the coal we mine is federal coal,” Clinch said. “The president is trying to stop all of that coal from being mined.

“It could also make it unfeasible to mine some tribal, private, or state-owned coal on parcels adjacent to federal parcels,” Clinch said. “The president and environmental groups have put in jeopardy thousands of good-paying Montana jobs and one of our most important economic sectors.”

“Federal coal royalties total between $40 and $50 million in biennial revenue to our state,” said Glenn Oppel, government relations director for the Montana Chamber of Commerce.  “Losing that would leave a gaping hole in our state budget and represents a huge tax shift to Montana homeowners and small businesses.

“The economic impact of coal in our state cannot be understated, a moratorium on federal coal mining would be a catastrophe,” Oppel said.

“As I stated last week when I attended Obama’s state of the union where he hinted at further action against federal coal leasing: Washington, D.C.’s out of touch regulations are hurting Montana families, and they need to be stopped,” said Jason Small, president of International Boilermakers Local 11 in East Helena, Mont.

Bullock also opposes the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, aimed to regulate carbon emissions from U.S. power plants.

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