Despite Moratorium, Coal Projects Get Green Light

Jan 28, 2016

A coal haul truck at the Eagle Butte mine in Gillette, Wyoming.
Credit Stephanie Joyce

A panel that makes recommendations on whether new federal coal projects should move forward has given the green light to two proposals in Montana and Wyoming.

Cloud Peak Energy and Lighthouse Resources want to mine a combined 644 million tons of coal from government reserves. The Powder River regional coal team recommended that the Bureau of Land Management begin the environmental review process for both projects.

The decision comes just weeks after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a moratorium on new federal coal leases while the government reviews the coal program. Leases that were proposed before the moratorium can move through the environmental review process, but a final decision on them won’t be made until after the moratorium is lifted.

Coal companies cover the costs of the permitting process, but even so, many environmental and landowner groups argued that the decision to move forward with the projects is a waste of government resources.

“I think our federal government, the Interior Department, the administration, needs to focus its energies on reforming the coal program,” said Jeremy Nichols, with WildEarth Guardians. 

But Bridget Hill, who represents Wyoming Governor Matt Mead on the Powder River regional coal team, said no matter what, an environmental review will be required.

“And if we can have [the environmental review and the program review] running on concurrent tracks, when the other ‘pause’ is over, we might be ready to go.”

The coal program review is expected to take three years. Environmental reviews of similar projects have typically taken that long or longer.