Response to Obama Administration Halt on Coal Leases

During his final State of the Union Address on January 12th of this year, President Barack Obama promised to advocate for a shift in the “way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet”.[1] On Friday, January 15th, Obama declared a temporary hold on granting new coal mining leases on federal lands.[2] The three year halt, stems from a desire to know “how, when, and where” the federal coal program should operate in order to remain “consistent with our [the Obama administration’s] objective” according to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.[3] This is important because it signals the Obama administration’s intention to reform the shoddy practices of the coal industry with real, consequential solutions.

The two most outstanding stakeholders in this decision are the Bureau of Land Management and the National Mining Association. The BLM holds considerable power given its support from the United States government and, in this case, pro environmentalist groups. A stakeholder analysis shows, however, that it faces a formidable and dangerous opponent in the National Mining Association, a powerful branch of the American coal mining lobby.

The Bureau of Land Management will enforce Obama’s halt on coal mining leases. The BLM oversees all federal coal, oil, and gas resources. It holds the power to grant coal mining leases on federal land to large oil companies. In this issue, the BLM’s foremost objective is to bring the US coal industry in line with its current climate policies. Thus, in a stakeholder analysis, the BLM identifies as a highly influential group that is strongly in support of the President’s halt on new coal mining leases. Additionally, recent data suggests that current federal leases sell for well below market value. As a result the BLM maintains high level of interest in the economic implications of any findings during the government’s three year review as the may justify an increase in the cost of leases.[4]

The National Mining Association serves as a foil to the Bureau of Land Management. The NMA is a powerful trade association. Its power stems from a strong presence in congress accompanied by the over 40 million dollars that it has invested in the coal mining industry over the past fifteen years.[5] The National Mining Association stands staunchly against President Obama’s recent actions. In his statement to the press, NMA president Hal Quinn claimed that the President’s insistence in pausing leasing “defies credulity”.[6] This adds to the long history of NMA’s fight against pro-environmentalist litigation in the name of the miners that they represent. The NMA’s operates in close proximity to this issue as 40 percent of all US coal is mined of off federal lands under the protection of federally granted leases.[7] Thus this decision will have a lasting impact on many of the National Mining Association’s constituents.

Given its government backing, the Bureau of Land Management is a powerful player in enforcing President Obama’s recent decision to halt new coal mining leases. Its power is tempered however by well-funded and highly influential lobby groups like the National Mining Association that are determined to fight the Obama administration’s new and encroaching climate policy. Thus the NMA’s financial and political power pose a distinct threat to the progress of BLM’s review of American coal mining practices.

[1] Barack Obama, “State of the Union Address 2016,” Briefing Room, accessed: February 4, 2016, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address.

[2]In  Climate Move, Obama Halts New Coal Mining Leases on Public Lands”, New York Times, January 15, 2016,  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/15/us/politics/in-climate-move-obama-to-halt-new-coal-mining-leases-on-public-lands.html?_r=0

[3]“Obama Halts Federal Coal Leasing Citing Climate Change”, Scientific American, Janurary 15, 2016, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/obama-halts-federal-coal-leasing-citing-climate-change/

[4] “New Energy for America” Accessed: February 4, 2016, http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/energy.html,

[5] “About NMA Overview”. Accessed: Feburary 4, 2016, http://www.nma.org/index.php/about-nma-overview

[6] “Obama Administration Halts New Coal Leases on Federal Lands”, NBC News, January 15  2016,  http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/obama-administration-halts-new-coal-leases-federal-lands-n497401

[7] NMA Overview

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