There’s big news coming today about the federal coal-leasing program, with an Interior Department press conference planned later this morning and this report out from The Wall Street Journal:
The Obama administration plans to announce Friday that it is going to change the way the federal government handles coal leases on public lands, the latest step in President Barack Obama’s plan to address climate change, according to a congressional aide.
The administration is also expected to put in place a moratorium on at least some new coal leasing until the Interior Department conducts a broad environmental review, which could include coal mining’s impact on climate change, wildlife and other environmental issues. An Interior Department representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
As the Journal noted, this is following up on President Obama’s comments earlier this week in his final State of the Union address:
Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future – especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why 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.
At the same time, the administration is also making clear that it plans to continue a major push to help coalfield communities in Appalachia that are struggling through the industry’s continuing downturn. White House officials told me this week that the upcoming budget proposal for next financial year would include more funding for the Power Plus Plan.
Readers will recall that last year, President Obama included significant funding in his budget proposal to help coalfield communities, including $1 billion in new spending over five years to clean up abandoned strip mines, additional funding for research on carbon capture technology for power plants, and nearly $4 billion over 10 yeas to protect the health and retirement benefits of retired coal miners.
Congress came through with some money for some of these projects, such as a $90 million pilot project for abandoned mine cleanups, $50 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission, and $15 million to the Economic Development Administration for projects and grants under Power Plus.
While the full budget proposal won’t be public until next month, White House officials say that it will include proposing to continue the additional money for the Appalachian Regional Commission, along with more money for other components of the administration’s coalfield aid plan.
“We expect to come out of the gate pretty strong,” one White House official told me. “We are going to be making this a priority for us.”