Skip to main content

Federal plan would kill coal leasing in Powder River Basin

News Letter Journal - Staff Photo - Create Article
File photo, via the Wyoming News Exchange
Jake Goodrick with the Gillette News Record, via the Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — Monumental changes proposed by the Bureau of Land Management would put an end to federal coal leasing in the Powder River Basin, putting an out-right stop to coal mining in Campbell County once the remaining active leases expire after 2041.

The federal agency announced its changes to the Buffalo Field Office land use plan on Thursday in a decision that sparked backlash from the coal industry and Wyoming officials.

The plan targets the Powder River Basin and its 12 Wyoming coal mines, which are all located in Campbell County, and would allow mines to operate through 2041 under current leases.

The changes also apply to Montana, which produces a marginal amount of the Powder River Basin’s total contribution to the nation’s coal use.

The BLM decision comes as a federal answer to environmental and health impacts on coal communities while hedging toward the Biden administration’s shift away from fossil fuels in favor of more environment-friendly renewable energy sources.

The Powder River Basin supplies almost half of the nation’s coal burned for power and has been a bedrock industry of Wyoming’s economy for decades, funneling significant revenue to the state.

There’s a 30-day window, through June 17, to challenge the proposal.

The BLM proposal comes weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency announced rules that tighten regulations on coal-fired power plants, effectively causing them to capture 90% of their carbon emissions at the source by 2032 or shut down.

The EPA proposal has been challenged in court by Wyoming and more than 20 other states, and Gov. Mark Gordon promised soon after the BLM announcement Thursday to take similar action to halt the federal land agency’s proposal that would end coal mining after 2041.

“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,” Gordon said in a news release.

“This decision, compounded by the recent EPA rules, ensures President Biden’s legacy will be about blackouts and energy poverty for Wyoming’s citizens and beyond.”

Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said in a statement that the proposal would impact local jobs, communities and grid reliability for the nation.

“The Biden Administration continues its aggressive, ridiculous assault on our coal industry,” Deti said. “The banning of further federal coal leasing will kill thousands of Wyoming jobs, put families in economic jeopardy, devastate the state’s revenue base and put the already rickety American electricity grid at greater risk of failure.”

Deti said the BLM decision drives “the country headlong into a significant energy crisis.”

“In a time of deteriorating grid reliability and soaring electricity demand, make no mistake about it — the lights are going out,” he said.

Wyoming’s delegation in U.S. Congress — Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and Rep. Harriet Hageman, all Republicans — also came out strong against the BLM plan.

“This short-sighted plan will kill future coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin – the most energy-rich area in the country,” Barrasso said in a news release. “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.”

Not all within the Cowboy State took issue with the federal plan.

Lynne Huskinson, a retired Campbell County coal miner and board member of Powder River Basin Resource Council — an agriculture and conservation group — said the decision allows Wyoming to shift toward a future less dependent on fossil fuels.

“As someone who lives near some of the largest coal mines in the nation, I’m thankful for the leadership from the BLM in finally addressing the long-standing negative impacts that federal coal leasing has had on the Powder River Basin,” she said in a news release.

“For decades, mining has affected public health, our local land, air, and water, and the global climate. We look forward to BLM working with state and local partners to ensure a just economic transition for the Powder River Basin as we move toward a clean energy future.”

Gillette Mayor Shay Lundvall said he was disappointed at the lack of communication with local communities that stand to feel the effects of the proposed end to Powder River Basin coal.

“As the largest city in the impacted area, and the third largest city in Wyoming, I am disappointed that the federal government has provided zero information and has made zero attempts to reach out to local elected officials and our community members before making decisions with the potential to critically impact our local economy,” Lundvall said in a news release.

“By pushing for less production and use of our natural resources through rules like these, the federal government will cause us to lose revenue and jobs, and harm our community and others like it.”

This story was published on May 17, 2024.

--- Online Subscribers: Please click here to log in to read this story and access all content.

Not an Online Subscriber? Click here to subscribe.

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates