WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s State of the Union pledge to better manage fossil fuel development will face a test within days, when federal officials rule on whether to open public lands containing more than 600 million tons of coal to more mining.
Interior Department officials are due to decide Jan. 27 on whether to lease two mine sites on federal land in Wyoming’s coal-rich Powder River Basin, where the black rock runs in 10-story seams.
Environmentalists strongly oppose more coal mining on federal land, saying burning all that coal would exacerbate climate change. Reforming government controls on federal lands is one of the few actions still available to Obama in his final year in office.
Developing the two Wyoming sites would make more than 640 million tons of coal available to mining companies, according to the Interior Department. Each ton of burned coal creates 1.66 metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to government data.
That means burning all the coal at the lease sites would add more than a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
The Energy Information Administration says roughly 41 percent of U.S. coal production occurs on federal land, and environmentalists have argued strongly against permitting more mining there.
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