US stops issuing new coal mine permits | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 15.01.2016
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US stops issuing new coal mine permits

The US has said it won't issue permits for new coal mines on government land as it reviews coal policy in a step to fight climate change. But the freeze may hit the country's already-struggling coal miners.

The US government announced on Friday that it will stop issuing permits for new coal mines on government land while it undertakes a massive review of federal coal policy - possibly the latest setback for the country's struggling coal miners.

"Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we're taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review," #link: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.#

The Interior Department manages about 230 million hectares of coal lands that can be leased by miners. Around 40 percent of US coal output are produced in these lands.

Ensuring fair return to taxpayers in exchange for use of public land

Jewell said the review will tackle how, when and where to lease government land to coal miners, the environmental and public health impact of federal coal policy, and how to ensure a fair return for US taxpayers for the use of public resources.

The freeze will not apply to existing coal production activities, metallurgical coal used in steel production, and emergency leasing, according to the government statement.

Kohle Werk Washington USA

The coal-powered TransAlta plant in Washington, transitioning towards cleaner energy sources since 2011

The announcement of the review and the halt to new permits comes after US President Barack Obama promised improvements to the management of fossil fuel resources and progress in moving the country towards a clean energy economy on Tuesday's State of the Union address.

"Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future - especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels," he said. "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."

Coal industry collapsing

But the rise of large, cheap supplies of natural gas have proven a significant threat to coal. Some two dozen coal companies have closed shop in the last years. Industry heavyweights like Patriot Coal and Walter Energy have filed for bankruptcy, joined only last Monday by ArchCoal.

Despite efforts to wean the US energy mix off coal in favor of cleaner energy sources, Jewell said coal would still be “an important domestic energy source in the years ahead” and was therefore worth subjecting to thorough scrutiny.

The full review is expected to take about three years, but the Interior Department said it would release an interim report by the end of the year.

jd/hg (AP, AFP)

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