The first of six public meetings hosted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on its recent environmental assessment of the federal coal program took place in Casper today, with the many speakers criticizing federal regulations they say have helped push the coal industry into disarray, as prices have plummeted and bankruptcies and layoffs soared over the past few years.
Much of the coal mined in the U.S. — and the vast majority mined in Wyoming — comes from federally owned land, much of it controlled by the BLM. The assessment includes what could be a three-year moratorium on new public coal leases, as the Obama Administration moves ahead in its measures to combat climate change.
The meeting to gather the opinions of the public was held at the Casper Events Center with a couple hundred interested citizens in attendance. Reasonably tight security marked the session, as people’s bags were inspected and coats opened to check for firearms.
The session opened with a PowerPoint presentation by the BLM that outlined the government’s coal leasing and management program Mary Jo Rugwell, the BLM’s Wyoming state director, welcomed attendees before calling on U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi for opening remarks. The Republican, who once served as mayor of Gillette — ground zero for Wyoming’s coal bust — noted that he was involved in originally helping to set up the federal coal leasing program back in the 1970s. He asked the BLM to schedule a scoping meeting in Gillette, where the impacts — pro and con — of the federal coal management program are most deeply experienced.
“More than 40 percent of the sales price of federal coal in Wyoming goes to taxes and fees,” Enzi said. “These meetings will give the administration a better understanding of how much Wyoming appreciates coal.”
Tucker Fagan, Wyoming state director for Rep. Cynthia Lummis, also spoke about the coal program and was sharply critical of the administration for declaring the moratorium on new leasing.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow also spoke, saying she was raised in the Gillette area and is sympathetic to the embattled industry.
“We need to lift the heavy hand of regulation that comes down every day,” Balow said. “More than $3.2 billion of coal receipts have gone into new school construction and remodeling.”
Several dozen members of the public registered to give three-minute’s worth of comments for the record.
Some of the event’s early speakers were from environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and Powder River Basin Resource Council.
One rancher’s comments were read by a friend, since his cattle were calving and he was tied up. His remarks illustrated the long-standing conflict between privately-owned surface and Federal sub-surface interests. His grazing lands were taken over by mining operations and he had to go as far as South Dakota to find pastures.
Several speakers also noted that there’s a 20-year supply of coal already under lease and there shouldn’t be a hurry to lease more Federal coal.
Mining company representatives, “Friends of Coal” representatives and candidates for various state offices also spoke, mostly against the moratorium and the time-consuming and very costly process of preparing the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.
Written comments on the EIS need to be submitted to the BLM by July 28. The public scoping sessions will end in Pittsburgh at the end of June.
See the article here.
- On May 17, 2016