A Needed Step to Protect Public Lands for Wildlife

Today, the Obama Administration issued a long overdue plan to reform the outdated leasing program for coal mining on federal lands. The current system, which is three decades old, is an outdated process that gives coal companies sweetheart deals that short change the American taxpayer and fail to account for the massive impacts of coal mining on wildlife and habitat.

This action is a sensible step to ensure that the significant costs of coal mining on our public lands are borne by the coal companies, not the American taxpayers. These costs include habitat loss and degradation and the pollution of our water and climate.

Please join us in thanking the President and Secretary Jewell for taking this needed step by retweeting the following tweet.

Protecting Wildlife and Taxpayers

In response to the announcement, National Wildlife Federation President and CEO Collin O’Mara said:

“Responding to calls from sportsmen, local communities, landowners, and taxpayer advocates, President Obama is taking a sensible step to modernize the federal coal leasing program and following precedent established by previous Republican and Democratic administrations.  This program has been broken for decades with leases given away at bargain basement prices to the detriment of American’s wildlife, public lands, and outdoor experiences.  Today’s announcement is an important step towards recovering species, like mule deer, pronghorn, elk, and sage grouse, and addressing the more than $3 billion of taxpayer money that it will take to clean up the public lands and water contaminated by coal mining in the west.”

A Sensible Plan for Reform

The President’s announcement has three primary elements.

First, it will put a hold on new and expanded leases, with certain limited exemptions. This is a sensible step that ensures that the measure does not shut down existing operations, which have about 20 years of reserves that are covered by existing leases, but protects taxpayers from further giveaways of federal resources until needed reforms are put in place.

Second, a comprehensive programmatic environmental review will take place to examine long overdue improvements in the coal leasing program to protect habitat, federal lands and taxpayers from destructive mining practices on federal lands.

Finally, an assessment will take place that will put a mechanism for considering and accounting for the carbon polluting impacts of coal mining and other fossil fuel development on federal lands. This assessment is a key step to ensuring that national carbon pollution targets needed to avoid catastrophic global climate change are met and the costs of carbon pollution – which are high as demonstrated by recent droughts, wild fires and extreme storms – are properly taken into account.

A coal mine site in Wyoming. The President's actions will ensure taxpayers and wildlife are better protected from mining impacts on public lands. Photo by ECOFLIGHT.
A coal mine site in Wyoming. The President’s actions will ensure taxpayers and wildlife are better protected from mining impacts on public lands. Photo by ECOFLIGHT.

This announcement could not have come at a more apt time. A recent National Wildlife Federation report has detailed the on-going damage to habitat and wildlife from coal mining. Additionally, with coal companies teetering financially, the ability of coal companies to restore and reclaim mined land is further cast into doubt.  The National Wildlife Federation has already reported in detail the existing failures of reclamation and the enormous costs to wildlife.

With a renewed focus on keeping public lands in public hands, we must make sure that public resources on those lands are used in ways that benefit taxpayers and wildlife. This is an important step in realizing that goal.