Energy

A piece of coal from Antelope Mine.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune

A bill that puts a stopper on any future coal lease moratoriums passed in the U.S. House Natural Resource Committee on Thursday.

An Obama-era hold on new coal leases was a sticking point in coal-rich Wyoming, where many saw it as part of a political and regulatory “war on coal.”

This bill would keep a presidential administration from interfering in the coal market, Cheney said in a statement.

“For far too long Obama-era energy policies attacked our state’s fossil fuel industry,” Cheney said. “Coal is a national treasure and President Obama’s war on coal did real damage to the livelihoods of the people and communities in our state.”

The moratorium was put in place in anticipation of an overhaul of the nation’s coal lease program. The Obama administration released the results of a review suggesting changes just days before President Donald Trump took office.

The moratorium was later lifted by the Trump Administration.

However, a challenged market following large lease sales that shored up company reserves have been a more effective deterrent to new leasing. Coal plant closures and competition from natural gas and renewables have put increasing pressure on the coal sector, depressing spending on expansion.

Wyoming is at the center of the recent coal lease and royalty debates. It is the nation’s largest producer of coal. All of its large surface mines are federal coal resources, and until last year, a flush of coal lease bonus money served as the revenue source for school buildings and major maintenance.

Wyoming coal companies supported Cheney’s bill when it was first proposed earlier this year. Gillette-based Cloud Peak said in earlier interviews that the bill was an important check against future meddling from Washington.

“The continued ability to efficiently maintain these mines through leasing additional tracts is critical to ensuring ‘the maximum economic recovery of coal,’ as required under the Mineral Leasing Act, said Spokesman Richard Reavey in July.

But environmental groups supported the moratorium as part of the overhaul of the country’s coal program, and fought the Obama-era expansions granted to Wyoming companies just before the moratorium was put in place.

Those that supported the moratorium say coal companies underpay on federal coal leases and royalties, shorting the taxpayer revenue. Coal companies have argued against this, pointing to the volume of taxes laid on each ton of coal that is shipped out of the PRB.

Coal has challenges behind and ahead, but the sector has become a conservative rallying cry for federal de-regulation.

For Cheney, this legislation could help ensure the longevity of coal and “prevent future unnecessary drags on economic growth.”

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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