Interior apologizes after incorrectly saying Obama blocked coal mines

Interior apologizes after incorrectly saying Obama blocked coal mines
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The Interior Department has apologized after an official incorrectly blamed the Obama administration for blocking approval of two coal mines.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt wrote a Jan. 28 opinion piece in the Grand Junction, Colo., Daily Sentinel, his hometown paper, lauding the Trump administration’s pro-coal agenda.

One accomplishment Bernhardt boasted about was approving expansion applications for the West Elk and King II mines in Colorado.


“These moves were only possible with the lifting of the coal moratorium,” he wrote. “Members of the previous administration may scoff at 222 jobs as a drop in the bucket, but we understand that this number means a lot in rural communities.”

The Obama administration did indeed put a moratorium on new leases for coal mines on federal land in 2016, as part of an effort to review the environmental and climate impact of coal mining and whether to increase costs.

One of Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWatchdog: Trump official boosted former employer in Interior committee membership Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE’s first actions in office was to roll back the coal moratorium.

But the West Elk and King II expansions were far enough along in the process that they were excluded from the moratorium from the beginning. They did not get approved until Trump took office — and Trump expedited the King II process — but their applications did move forward under Obama.

The Sentinel received multiple letters to the editor in the following days taking issue with Bernhardt’s op-ed.

By Thursday, Interior Communications Director Laura Rigas apologized.

“Our office mistakenly submitted a column that did not obtain final approval from the author,” she wrote in the statement that ran as a letter to the editor.

“Additionally, in the process of drafting the piece, our staff made an error in fact-checking a claim about approved expansions of the West Elk and King II Mines. The line in question, arguing that the expansions were only possible as a result of lifting the federal coal leasing moratorium (which the previous administration imposed), was not correct. The two mines had obtained an exemption from the moratorium, as some have pointed out. I sincerely apologize for these mistakes.”

But she said the overall point of Bernhardt’s op-ed remains.

“Under President TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE’s leadership, we will continue to deliver regulatory relief to citizens across this country.”