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Fresh off his State of the Union promise, the President’s Department of Interior (DOI) announced Friday a pause on new coal leases on public lands while they update our coal leasing system.

Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. -President Obama, 2016 State of the Union

This decision stems from a series of listening sessions DOI Secretary Sally Jewell held with communities in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin, where over 40% of our public coal gets mined. During this period, thousands of citizens shared their concerns about a system that has not undergone major reforms in more than thirty years.

Where We Go From Here

We will ask the President to impose similar moratoria on new oil and gas leasing on public lands, as well as offshore. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley’s Keep It in the Ground Act of 2015 will do just that. Right now, the BLM is considering a rule designed to prevent waste and ensure fairer taxpayer returns from oil and gas drilling on public lands. And we hope the Environmental Protection Agency will extend their Clean Air Act methane rules for oil and gas wells to existing sites.

Keep It In the Ground

This important announcement marks an end to our reliance on dirty fossil fuels. It also signals the rise of the Keep It In the Ground (KING) movement, a campaign to which Earthworks belongs, that has crossed a critical credibility threshold among federal policymakers. While pausing new fossil fuel development will help, we cannot achieve our emissions reduction needs unless we tackle existing sources as well. 

What Happens Now

This pause on new leases comes as DOI conducts a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) reviewing how, when, and where to lease the public’s coal. In the meantime, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will post online each pending request to lease coal or reduce royalties. Friday’s decision also encourages existing lessees to capture and sell methane waste from coal.

To account for climate change, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) will create a publicly accessible database of all our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from oil, gas, and coal mining on public lands. Tracking GHG emissions from public lands is essential to reducing them, and key to meeting our Paris obligations.

Coal mining under existing and pending leases will continue. DOI estimates those will yield another 20 years worth of coal, allowing more than enough time to transition toward renewable energies.

We applaud the Administration for these critical reforms and for listening to the voices from the Powder River Basin.  Ultimately, we need to see permanence to this pause in coal mining and extending its application to other dirty fossil fuels.  We know our future energy needs will not come from these polluting sources that alter our planet's climate. Bold decisions like this help nudge us in the only direction we need to go.