U.S. to end coal leasing in nation’s largest coal-producing region

The Biden administration announced Thursday it will end coal leasing on federal lands in the Powder River Basin, which produces nearly half the coal in the United States.

The decision by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management affects a vast coal-producing region that covers more than 13 million acres across Montana and Wyoming, and it handed a long-sought victory to climate advocates. For years, they have fought to restore an Obama-era moratorium on coal mining on federal lands.

But it angered Republican lawmakers in Montana and Wyoming, some of whom accused President Biden of waging a “war on coal,” even as the nation moves away from the fossil fuel because of market forces. It also infuriated mining interests.

“At a time of deteriorating grid reliability, soaring electricity demand and ongoing concern about global energy shocks, proposing a plan of no new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin is outrageous,” said Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the National Mining Association. “This damages American energy security and affordability and is a severe economic blow to mining states and communities.”

In a final environmental impact statement released Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management found that continued coal leasing in the Powder River Basin would have significant consequences for the climate and public health. The bureau determined that no future coal leasing should happen in the basin, although existing coal mines can continue to operate on lands they have already leased.

The United States is already moving away from coal, which has struggled to compete economically with cheaper gas and renewable energy. U.S. coal output tumbled 36 percent from 2015 to 2023, according to the Energy Information Administration. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign contends that 382 coal-fired power plants have closed down or proposed to retire, with 148 remaining.

Yet the Powder River Basin continues to supply more than 43 percent of all coal produced in the United States. Burning all of that coal releases massive amounts of the carbon dioxide emissions that are dangerously warming the Earth.


Environmentalists celebrated the Bureau of Land Management’s decision as an important step in curbing America’s contribution to climate change.

“BLM’s announcement recognizes that 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, waters and climate as we enter a bright clean energy future,” Paula Antoine, board chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, said in a statement.

Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, slammed the decision and accused Biden of furthering President Barack Obama’s “war” on coal.

“President Biden continues to wage war on Wyoming’s coal communities and families,” Barrasso said in a statement. “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.”

Obama first froze federal coal lease sales in 2016, but President Donald Trump lifted that freeze two months after taking office. The move was part of Trump’s effort to fulfill his campaign promise to revive the struggling U.S. coal industry.

In 2022, a federal judge ordered the Bureau of Land Management to pause the issuing of new coal leases. In his ruling, Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana wrote that under the Trump administration, the bureau had failed to study the full environmental effects of permitting more mining, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Groups involved in the litigation celebrated Thursday.

“This is a monumental decision that will save lives, safeguard our environment, and significantly cut carbon emissions in the United States,” Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife, and oceans at Earthjustice, said in a statement.