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The Biden administration is ending new leases in America's top coal region

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A few years ago, I drove through Wyoming and saw an amazing thing. We were driving a highway that runs along railroad tracks and we passed a coal train, and then kept passing and passing, one coal car after another - seemed to go for miles. I later checked and coal trains really can be a mile or two long out there. That part of Wyoming and Montana is the country's most productive coal mining region, and because of climate change, the Biden administration says it will stop offering leases to mine there. Here's Kayla Desroches with Yellowstone Public Radio.

KAYLA DESROCHES, BYLINE: The halt on new leasing is in response to a 2020 lawsuit from a coalition of environmental groups over the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's plans for the Powder River Basin. More than a dozen mines there produce more than 40% of America's coal. Green groups argued that burning coal from future mines would harm the climate and public health. A federal judge in Montana agreed in 2022, and yesterday, the bureau published amended plans, which say that coal it manages in the basin is now off limits. Melissa Hornbein is an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.

MELISSA HORNBEIN: It is my sincere hope that this will be the first of many plans where the agency chooses a no-leasing alternative with respect to fossil fuel-based energy sources.

DESROCHES: Conservation groups have been challenging new federal coal leases here since at least 2015, saying they violate federal environmental laws. The Obama administration moved to halt new coal leases in 2016. The Trump administration reversed that policy. The governors and most members of Congress from Montana and Wyoming say that halting coal leases is curtailing vital American energy production. Coal has long been an important part of the two states' economies and their strong opposition to the Biden administration's energy and climate policies. Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale.

MATT ROSENDALE: It's a poor decision that is misguided and will only hurt our economy and our national security.

DESROCHES: The proposed ban on new coal leases in the Powder River Basin is now subject to a 30-day public protest period. But even if there are no new leases in the future, the Bureau of Land Management says coal mining will continue in the basin through 2041 on dozens of previously issued leases.

For NPR News, I'm Kayla Desroches in Billings, Mont. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kayla Desroches
Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.