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Obama to overhaul coal leases

Obama to overhaul coal leases
© Getty Images

Obama administration officials are set to announce plans Friday to overhaul the program that allows private companies to mine coal on federal land.

The initiative follows up on President Obama’s State of the Union pledge to make federal coal and oil lease prices better reflect the cost of climate change, sources familiar with the plans said.

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“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,” Obama said in the Tuesday night speech.

Under the plan, federal officials would agree to consider greenhouse gas emissions from coal in deciding whether or not to lease land for coal mining, the sources said.

That evaluation would factor into the pricing for leases, as well as other rules.

Officials would put a partial moratorium on new coal mining leases while the rules are configured.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is the chief agency in charge of coal leases. The department declined to comment on the report Thursday.

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen joined with environmental groups in 2014 to file a lawsuit against Interior, arguing that its coal program must account for climate change.

The reforms could also answer complaints from Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenate sends annual defense bill to Obama's desk Overnight Cybersecurity: Fed agency IT report cards | Senate Dems push for briefing on Russia hacks Senator warns voice-controlled toys might be recording children MORE (D-Mass.), the Government Accountability Office and others that lease sales for coal are not competitive enough to get fair prices.

Fossil fuels extracted on federal lands account for about a quarter of the nation’s energy-related greenhouse gases, according to the Center for American Progress. The Energy Information Administration estimates that 41 percent of the coal mined in the United States comes from federal land.

Federal coal burning caused 769 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2012, the liberal group said.

Environmentalists have shone a light on federal fossil fuels recently and accused Obama of ignoring a major cause of climate change by not reforming leasing rules.

The National Mining Association is staunchly opposed to any efforts to increase federal coal costs, saying it would increase energy prices and reduce the amount of money going into federal coffers.