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New BLM rule will stop new coal land leases in Powder River Basin

Coal Leases Biden
Posted at 12:41 AM, May 17, 2024

A rule released on Wednesday could have major implications for the future of Colstrip's power plant.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM)announced it will end federal coal leasing in the Powder River Basin, the largest coal-producing region in the country.

The BLM plans to allow mining on land that is currently leased, so those on both sides say there are no real short-term effects.

In the long term, the BLM wants to limit the number of new leases, it issues for coal mining.

“A lot of land leased already and so they have the ability to keep mining for quite a while,” said Mark Fix, a rancher near the Tongue River, 20 miles from Miles City. “It's not like it's shutting off tomorrow or something.”

Fix is a former Northern Plains Resource Council chair and has been battling coal for years.

The BLM plan would eliminate new coal leases until 2038.

“I'm kind of glad to see the BLM coming out with this decision,” Fix said.

According to the BLM, environmental findings show significant impacts on climate and health environments from leasing 6 billion tons of coal.

Colstrip Mayor John Williams is a retired power plant worker and says the technology eliminates about 98.5 percent of the pollutants from burning coal.

“We have cleaner air here than they do in Yellowstone Park,” Williams said. “The air in and around these power plants is quite clean, They meet class one air and that was part of the requirements when those plants were built.”

And while this rule is focused on the Powder River Basin, some are concerned that no new coal leases will affect more than Colstrip.

“It is removing the coal resource from the ability for the people of this country to recover the dollars from utilizing those resources,” said Rep. Gary Parry, R-Colstrip.

Parry says he is not against renewable energy but says there is not a replacement for coal-generated electricity which he says can affect national security.

“The electricity that is generated there also powers all of the missile silos at Malmstrom Air Force Base,” Parry said. “And we have battery backup but it's about four hours worth of battery backup.”

The proposed rule comes as a result of a lawsuit from the Western Organization of Resource Council and a judge's order for a new coal screening and EPA analysis.

“It is a good ruling, kind of hold off and take a look and say they're going to be mining coal for a long time,” Fix said.