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Court lifts coal sales moratorium in setback for Dems, environmentalists

In this 2013 file photo, a mechanized shovel loads a haul truck that can carry up to 250 tons of coal at the Spring Creek coal mine near Decker, Mont. On Feb. 21, 2024, a U.S. appeals court struck down a judge's 2022 order that imposed a moratorium on coal leasing from federal lands.

(AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)

  • The Associated Press from Colorado Politics

Appeals court lifts US coal sales moratorium

BILLINGS — A U.S. appeals court on Feb. 21 struck down a moratorium on coal leasing from federal lands in a move that could open the door to future coal sales from vast, publicly owned reserves of the fuel that's a major source of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a setback for environmentalists and Democratic officials who worked for years to curtail the federal coal leasing program.

Yet it's uncertain how much demand there will be from the mining industry for new leases: Coal production from federal lands dropped sharply over the past decade after many electric utilities switched to less polluting sources of power generation such as natural gas and renewables.

More than 260 million tons of coal, or almost half of the nation's total, was mined by private companies from leases on federal land in 2022, the most recent figures available. That compares to more than 400 million tons of coal mined from federal lands in 2014.


Most of the mining occurs in Western states including Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

The leasing moratorium — originally enacted in 2016 under former President Barack Obama — didn't halt mining. Rather, it prohibited federal lease sales that are often crucial for companies seeking to expand their operations.

The moratorium was rescinded under the administration of former President Donald Trump, then revived by a federal district judge in Montana, who in 2022 ordered government officials to conduct a new environmental review before they could hold coal sales on federal lands.

But the Feb. 21 appeals court ruling said the matter was moot when the 2022 order was issued, because Interior Department officials under President Joe Biden already had revoked Trump's effort to end the moratorium.

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