Republicans furious over Obama move on coal leases

Republicans furious over Obama move on coal leases
© Getty Images

Congressional Republicans are slamming the Obama administration’s decision to halt new coal mining leases on federal land. 

Administration officials said Friday they would hold off on new lease sales while overhauling the coal leasing program to account for climate change costs. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Republicans, who have badgered Obama for energy and environment policies they say constitute a “war on coal,” let loose on the decision Friday. 

“There seems to be no limit to the number of job-crushing regulations, executive orders and insults [Interior Secretary Sally Jewell] and President Obama will throw at America’s middle class,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump’s infrastructure plan may slip to next month Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism Trump's infrastructure team to huddle with senators MORE (R-Wyo.) said in a statement. The Interior Department leases about 200,000 acres of land in Wyoming for coal mining.

“This administration is in a full-scale war with coal communities and families.”

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.) said Congress will “continue to fight back” against Obama’s energy policies, calling Friday’s decision an attack on coal mining communities. 

“President Obama has made it absolutely clear what he plans to do with America’s energy — keep it in the ground,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHow Republicans beat the odds on taxes Overnight Cybersecurity: Newly identified hacker group stole millions from banks | House passes DHS cyber overhaul bill | Facebook app for kids spurs privacy concerns Local governments grapple with ransomware threat MORE, a Republican who represents mining-heavy Montana, said the move is an “unprecedented assault on one of Montana’s most important sources of good paying jobs and tax revenue.”

Rep. Ed WhitfieldWayne (Ed) Edward WhitfieldWhy Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog What Azerbaijan wants from Israel? Overnight Energy: Green group sues Exxon over climate science MORE (R-Ky.) called the decision “another unilateral attack on coal.” Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopGOP chairman slams federal agency involved in Cliven Bundy case GAO finds inconsistencies in processing offshore oil testing Overnight Energy: Senate close to approving Arctic drilling | EPA cancels controversial media tracking contract | Trump officials sound alarm on mineral imports MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said it is an “unprecedented action” that will “completely shut down coal leasing on federal lands and will disproportionately harm the poorest among us.”

Friday’s move isn’t a pause in coal production on federal lands but only a moratorium on new leasing, administration officials said Friday. Mining on existing leases will continue during the review of the program, something Jewell said is long overdue. 

Green groups and Democrats, many of whom have pushed the Obama administration to institute policies slowing fossil fuel development on federal lands, praised the move. 

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyEarly tax bill reality very different than Democratic rhetoric Senate GOP seeks to change rules for Trump picks Dem senators tear into Trump: Tax bill 'a very big Christmas gift from Trump to himself' MORE (D-Ore.), who has authored a bill blocking future federal fossil fuel leasing, said the decision is a “breakthrough moment for America leadership” on climate change. 

“The science is clear: if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change, we will have to leave the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground rather than extracting and burning these dirty fuels,” he said. “The time is right to transition rapidly from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy, and that means keeping it in the ground.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member on the Natural Resources panel, seemed to embrace the GOP’s “war on coal” mantra on Friday. 

“For far too long the federal coal program has been part of a war on common sense, a war on the American taxpayer’s wallet, and a war on our planet,” he said. “It is past time to fight back."