As the Washington Post reported this morning:
The Obama administration on Friday ordered a moratorium on new leases for coal mined from federal lands as part of a sweeping review on the government’s management of vast amounts of taxpayer-owned coal throughout the West.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the temporary halt, saying it was time for a re-examination of the decades-old coal-leasing program, from health and environmental impacts to whether U.S. citizens are getting a fair return for the hundreds of millions of tons of government-owned coal that is mined and sold each year.
“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases,” said Jewell, who said existing coal leases would continue to go forward to assure an adequate supply for the country’s electricity needs.
As most articles that covered this decision suggest, the short-term effect of the action will likely be minimal:
"We have plenty of coal," Jewell said, adding that reserves already under lease are enough to sustain current levels of production from federal land for 20 years.
The long-term consequences, however, would likely alter the competitive advantage that western coal has long-enjoyed over Appalachian coal:
The decision is certain to draw fierce opposition from the coal industry and from politicians from Western states, where federal coal leases provide thousands of jobs as well as revenue for state and local government coffers.
The local reaction
This may create a dilemma for our local "newspapers." On the one hand the decision will eventually level some of the playing field between western and Appalachian coal thus making local coal more competitive. That should be good for local mines and miners. On the other hand the cost of extracting western coal will certainly hurt the bottom line of the coal companies doing business in the west. (From what I understand, this would include most of the major coal companies.)
I believe that the Intelligencer/News-Register will frame this decision as one more blow in the Obama administration's "war on coal" (or "war on affordable electricity" as they now label it) thus siding with the coal companies. The local "newspapers," if my memory is correct, have never mentioned the competitive advantage that western coal has over Appalachian coal in its explanations for the decline of the coal industry. Consequently, the obvious conclusion that Appalachian coal will become more competitive will either be ignored or mentioned in passing in favor of support for coal ownership regardless of where the coal is actually mined.
Of course, if local coverage takes the form of a news article, look for at least half of the article to feature Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray or the company's spokesman, Gary Broadbent.
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