This morning, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it will end federal coal leasing in the Powder River Basin – the largest coal-producing region in the United States. The decision represents a historic shift in federal management of coal in the region, recognizing the environmental and health impacts on coalfield communities and acknowledging that the market has shifted away from coal toward cleaner and more affordable energy sources.

The Bureau of Land Management released a final environmental impact statement for two Powder River Basin resource management plans, Buffalo and Miles City, finding that there would be significant impacts to our climate, human health, and the environment from continuing to lease the region’s approximately 6 billion tons of low-grade, highly polluting coal. BLM selected a “no future coal leasing alternative,” through which existing mines can develop already-leased reserves but cannot expand with publicly owned coal reserves.

“Coal has powered our nation for many decades, but technology, economics and markets are changing radically. BLM’s announcement recognizes that coal’s era is ending, and it’s time to focus on supporting our communities through the transition away from coal, investing in workers, and moving to heal our lands, waters and climate as we enter a bright clean energy future,” said Paula Antoine, Western Organization of Resource Councils Board Chair, from Winner, SD. 

“As someone who lives near some of the largest coal mines in the nation, I’m thankful for the leadership from the BLM in finally addressing the long-standing negative impacts that federal coal leasing has had on the Powder River Basin,” said Lynne Huskinson, retired coal miner and board member of Powder River Basin Resource Council and Western Organization of Resource Councils from Gillette, WY. “For decades, mining has affected public health, our local land, air, and water, and the global climate. , We look forward to BLM working with state and local partners to ensure a just economic transition for the Powder River Basin as we move toward a clean energy future.”

In 2022, in response to a challenge from conservation groups, including Powder River Basin Resource Council, Western Organization of Resource Councils, a federal judge found that the two resource management plans failed to address the public health consequences of allowing massive amounts of coal, oil, and gas production from public lands and minerals in the Powder River Basin over 20 years. The court ordered BLM to redo its environmental analysis.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris found that BLM failed to comply with a previous court order directing the agency to account for the environmental and human health impacts of burning publicly owned coal. The judge also held that BLM failed to consider alternatives that would limit or end new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.