Congressional Republicans are slamming the Obama administration’s decision to halt new coal mining leases on federal land.
Administration officials said Friday they would hold off on new lease sales while overhauling the coal leasing program to account for climate change costs.
Republicans, who have badgered Obama for energy and environment policies they say constitute a “war on coal,” let loose on the decision Friday.
“There seems to be no limit to the number of job-crushing regulations, executive orders and insults [Interior Secretary Sally Jewell] and President Obama will throw at America’s middle class,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement. The Interior Department leases about 200,000 acres of land in Wyoming for coal mining.
“This administration is in a full-scale war with coal communities and families.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Congress will “continue to fight back” against Obama’s energy policies, calling Friday’s decision an attack on coal mining communities.
“President Obama has made it absolutely clear what he plans to do with America’s energy — keep it in the ground,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican who represents mining-heavy Montana, said the move is an “unprecedented assault on one of Montana’s most important sources of good paying jobs and tax revenue.”
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) called the decision “another unilateral attack on coal.” Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said it is an “unprecedented action” that will “completely shut down coal leasing on federal lands and will disproportionately harm the poorest among us.”
Friday’s move isn’t a pause in coal production on federal lands but only a moratorium on new leasing, administration officials said Friday. Mining on existing leases will continue during the review of the program, something Jewell said is long overdue.
Green groups and Democrats, many of whom have pushed the Obama administration to institute policies slowing fossil fuel development on federal lands, praised the move.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who has authored a bill blocking future federal fossil fuel leasing, said the decision is a “breakthrough moment for America leadership” on climate change.
“The science is clear: if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change, we will have to leave the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground rather than extracting and burning these dirty fuels,” he said. “The time is right to transition rapidly from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy, and that means keeping it in the ground.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member on the Natural Resources panel, seemed to embrace the GOP’s “war on coal” mantra on Friday.
“For far too long the federal coal program has been part of a war on common sense, a war on the American taxpayer’s wallet, and a war on our planet,” he said. “It is past time to fight back.”