In January, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced a long-overdue comprehensive review of the US federal coal leasing program, after decades of concerns from watchdog groups, states, and government agencies that American taxpayers were losing out on millions of dollars on the coal that is mined on public lands. A litany of reports had found systematic undervaluation of leases, flawed estimation of fair market value, a lack of transparency and independent review, and a failure on the part of the Bureau of Land Management to consider the full economic impacts of leases in the federal coal leasing program.
After 30 years of no reforms to a broken system, the Department of the Interior finally put the federal coal leasing program on pause while they looked into ways to improve the system. This was a common-sense move: Just like you don’t leave the car running down the road while you repair the engine, it only made sense to put the program on hold until the Department could figure out how to fix it.
The DOI’s plan may have been premature as the agency may have just been undercut – by another agency in the same Administration. This week, news became public that the Department of Justice plans to legally defend the continuation of contested some coal leases the BLM issued in Wyoming. That’s right – the continuation.
A pause is a pause, and it just doesn’t make sense to let some of the most broken parts of the system continue to operate while you try to fix it. This move is at best confusing, and at worst irresponsible. Let’s hope more light is shed on this decision before Interior faces the public in the upcoming public meetings about the coal program, or there will be some serious questions to answer.