Entities seek balance, accountability in public lands management | TSLN.com

Entities seek balance, accountability in public lands management

Nicole Michaels
for Tri-State Livestock News

Scoping meetings have started in which public comment is being solicited on the future use of lands leased by coal companies.

The first meeting was held in Casper May 17 as the Bureau of Land Management takes a look at its practices. It's the first such review in 30 years.

According to a news release, the BLM hopes to learn whether "Americans are receiving a fair return for federal coal, how market conditions affect coal, how federal coal affects the environment and how these and other factors impact coal-dependent communities." A moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands has been in place since January, while the Department of the Interior looks over policies and rules to see if changes are needed.

Senator Enzi (R-Wyo.) and many others criticized the administration for its negativity toward the coal industry, according to a story in the Douglas Budget.

“We want a fair return for the American public. There are ways to better manage the resource, ways that are more balanced and bring back the multi-use of public lands.” Shannon Anderson, attorney on staff with the Powder river Basin resource Council

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The story tells that Enzi's testimony included an accusation, half-joking, that the adminstration doesn't understand how electricity is made, and that it is going to "cripple" the coal industry.

With major coal companies declaring bankruptcy, there is concern about coal following through with proper reclamation of land that has been mined for decades.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a non-profit with a mission to wed farming and ranching with environmental objectives, is in a dialog with government agencies, hoping to facilitate a good outcome.

"We want a fair return for the American public," says Shannon Anderson, attorney on staff with the council. "There are ways to better manage the resource, ways that are more balanced and bring back the multi-use of public lands."

Potential grazing land is already unnecessarily tied up in foundering coal leases, Anderson says, including acreage in the Thunder Basin National Grassland.

Coal's interests have been overemphasized over the years, she says, and enforcement of the coal industry's obligation to reclaim mined land has been weak.

Only a small fraction – ten percent – of leased land has been reclaimed.

Arch Coal and Peabody Energy operate two major mines in the Powder River Basin and lease approximately 60,000 acres or a total of 90 square miles of public land.

Until that land is fully reclaimed, it can be leased by ranchers directly from coal companies. "But how graze-able is it? If you're leasing it from the mine company it's not the acreage it was before," Anderson says.

Meetings continue across the region and the country this summer.

"We are working with agencies like the BLM and the Office of Surface Mining to encourage them to use their authority to do a better job of enforcement," Anderson says.

Among the testimonials heard in Casper was a statement submitted by a Campbell County rancher who says that sources of water for his cattle have dried up because of mining and he suffered other economic losses because of coal leases.

The council is participating in the time allotted for public comment and will submit technical comments in July following the scoping meetings

According to an Enzi news release, he, along with Senator Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis, (R-Wyo.) helped introduce bicameral legislation to protect coal jobs from the lease moratorium. The legislation would help ensure that states and tribes have a significant voice in any changes to federal coal, oil and gas royalties or leasing policy.

Led by U.S. Senator Steve Daines and U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke, both R-Mont., the legislation would reinstate the Royalty Policy Committee, made up of state governors, their appointees and Indian Tribes that produce federal minerals, to advise and inform the secretary of the interior in the formation of mineral and energy policies and regulations.

The legislation would also place a "firm, reasonable timeline" on the federal government's review of the federal coal leasing program and would ensure the program's lease sales continue in a timely and consistent manner after completion of National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) reviews.

"As I told the BLM at today's public meeting in Casper, the people of Wyoming already know the value of coal mined on federal land," Enzi said. "It is important to reinstate the Royalty Policy Committee so that states and tribes most impacted by federal coal leasing, the real experts on this program, have a meaningful say. The Certainty for States and Tribes Act would help provide the states this opportunity. It would also put a critical check on Interior's review of the federal coal program so that it can't drag on for years on end without a time limit or accountability."

Neither Peabody Energy nor Arch Coal – America's two largest coal mining companies – responded to interview requests.