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Coal Leasing Closed: BLM proposes amendment to end future coal leasing 

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On May 16, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued two final supplemental environmental impact statements (SEIS) and proposed amendments for its Buffalo Field Office and Miles City Field Office land use plans, both of which recommend ending future federal coal leasing across Northeastern Wyoming and Eastern Montana.

These actions come in response to a 2022 order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, requiring the BLM to evaluate alternatives based on updated information and analysis regarding climate and non-climate health impacts of developing fossil fuels in the area and ultimately select one of its proposed alternatives. 

BLM announced Alternative A as its preferred alternative, which recommends BLM-managed coal resources in the planning areas end future leasing.

Alternative A 

Under the BLM’s proposed alternative, existing coal mines in Wyoming would be able to continue operations until 2041. 

North of the state line, the plan would allow the Spring Creek Mine, owned by the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, to continue production through 2035 and the Rosebud Mine, owned by Westermoreland, to continue production through 2060. However, the plan would close nearly 1.2 million acres to new coal leasing. 

Overall, the Powder River Basin accounts for 85 percent of federal coal production and 40 percent of the nation’s total annual coal production, with the Spring Creek and Rosebud mines producing a combined 18.5 million short tons of coal in 2022. 

In its announcement, BLM noted this number is down 28 million short tons from 2007, while the 220 million short tons of coal produced by 12 active surface coal mines in the Buffalo Field Office were down roughly 400 million short tons from 2008. 

“Both U.S. total coal production and Powder River Basin coal production peaked in 2008 and have since declined steeply, according to the Energy Information Administration,” says BLM Spokesperson Mark Jacobsen in a May 17 article written by Blair Miller and published in the Daily Montanan.

“Coal has powered our nation for many decades, but technology, economics and markets are changing radically,” adds Western Organization of Resource Councils Board Chair Paula Antoine. “BLM’s announcement recognizes coal’s era is ending, and it’s time to focus on supporting our communities through the transition away from coal, investing in workers and moving to heal our lands, water and climate as we enter a bright clean energy future.”

Other alternatives 

As with all decisions made through the National Environmental Protection Agency process, the BLM chose Alternative A from a set of multiple alternatives.

According to the May 17 Federal Register, Alternative B, also known as the no action alternative, would “allow approximately 48 billion short tons of recoverable BLM-administered coal within the Coal Development Potential Area established in the 2019 Resource Management Plan (RMP) Amendment and Final SEIS be available for further consideration.” 

Alternative C would allow a reduced level of about 1.24 billion short tons of recoverable BLM-administered coal be available for leasing within the Coal Development Potential Area. 

“The BLM further considered three additional alternatives but dismissed them from detailed analysis, as explained in the proposed RMP amendment and final SEIS,” reads the Federal Register.

Negative response 

While environmental groups who pushed the administration to end new coal leasing called the BLM’s decision a “sea of change,” it has angered several Republican leaders hailing from both states. 

On May 16, both Gov. Mark Gordon and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) issued statements on the BLM announcement, calling it an attack on Wyoming’s natural resources industry. 

“With this latest barrage in President Joe Biden’s ongoing attack on Wyoming’s coal country and all who depend upon it, he has demonstrated his lack of regard for the environment, for working people and for reliable, dispatchable energy,” states Gordon. “This decision, compounded by the recent Environmental Protection Agency rules, ensures Biden’s legacy will be about blackouts and energy poverty for Wyoming’s citizens and beyond.” 

“This SEIS is not about making a well-informed decision. It is about Biden’s partisan, vindictive and politically-motivated war on America’s abundant, cheap, efficient and consistent energy sources – one which holds practical and achievable goals to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere,” he adds. “This administration touts its preference for ‘best available science,’ yet only chooses to highlight science advancing their job- and career-killing agenda.”

Gordon continues, “As governor, I am profoundly disappointed our nation’s highest executive leadership has chosen to ignore innovation and opportunity to grovel at the feet of coastal elites. I promise the state of Wyoming will fully utilize the opportunities available to kill or modify this record of decision (ROD) before it is signed and final. The issues we face globally right now are too important and too urgent to dither away with incoherent policies and wrongheaded initiatives. As with the other attacks on Wyoming’s fossil fuel industries, the Attorney General is actively pursuing options to challenge these destructive decisions.”

Barrasso further comments, “President Biden continues to wage war on Wyoming’s coal communities and families. This short-sighted plan will kill future coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin – the most energy rich area in the country. This will kill jobs and could cost Wyoming hundreds of millions of dollars used to pay for public schools, roads and other essential services in our communities. Cutting off access to our strongest resources surrenders America’s greatest economic advantages – to continue producing affordable, abundant and reliable American energy.”   

Gov. Greg Gianforte and three GOP members of Montana’s federal delegation expressed similar concerns, noting they believe moving away from using coal and oil and gas in Montana will hurt the state’s power grid and cost workers their jobs. 

“Every action taken by the Biden administration is driving up the cost of affordable energy and threatening the reliability of our electrical grid. Affordable power generated by coal keeps the lights on in Montana and fuels manufacturing across the country and world,” Gianforte says. “This announcement is nothing more than a gift to China and our adversaries and a slap in the face to hardworking Montanans.”

U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) adds, “BLM either does not understand or does not care their unreliable green new deal energy sources are not feasible in places like Montana and pose real threats to our economy and national security.” 

Public protest 

Following publication in the May 17 Federal Register, the BLM opened a 30-day public protest period which will end on June 17. 

According to the bureau, the protest period presents the final opportunity for the administration to review the proposed land use planning decisions before adopting an approved RMP. 

All protests must be submitted online through the BLM’s ePlanning website or written and mailed to BLM Director, Attn: Protest Coordinator, Denver Federal Center, Building 40, Lakewood, CO 80215.

The bureau is required to evaluate and respond to each protest, and responses to protest issues will be compiled and documented in a Protest Resolution Report. The BLM will then issue an ROD and approved RMP. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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