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Seattle Hosts Hearing On Future Of Federal Coal Leasing

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
A train hauling coal to British Columbia heads north out of downtown Seattle in this file photo from Tuesday afternoon, May 29, 2012. Seattle is one of six cities hosting hearings on the federal coal leasing program as it gets a comprehensive review.

Roughly 40 percent of the nation’s coal production comes from public lands. Yet it’s been more than 30 years since the federal government did a formal review of the program.

Now, they’re calling on the public to provide feedback and ideas for reform. A hearing on the issue takes placein downtown Seattle on Tuesday.

In January, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stopped issuing new coal leases on federal lands and announced a series of public meetings to identify and evaluate potential reforms. So far the meetings have been held in states such as Utah and Wyoming, where mining takes place.

But the Bureau of Land Management says they want to make sure they also hear from communities like Seattle that ship and export coal.

Everything is up for discussion, including how to account for the impacts coal mining has on environmental and public health, said BLM Director Neil Kornze.

“All questions are on the table. We’re taking a top-to-bottom look at the federal coal program that includes what should be sold, should it be sold, how should it be sold? How does this work for our country, how do we work in the global markets. We’re really looking at this from all angles,“ Kornze said.

Among those testifying in Seattle will be Clark Williams Derry with The Sightline Institute. He says up until now, the system has been basically rigged to make sure as much coal is produced as possible.  

“So one way to fix it is to send a clear signal, we’re not going to give coal away for free anymore, or for next to free,” Williams Derry said. “The federal government can decide that they are going to demand a fair return for public resources.”

Environmental groups including the Sierra Club planned to rally before the meeting and urge the government to keep its coal in the ground.  Seattle is the fourth of six cities to host the hearings. Prior hearings in cities such as Salt Lake City were packed with frustrated coal miners, truckers and coal company executives who want to keep the status quo.

They voiced concerns about preserving the stable and affordable power coal provides and the impact that shutting down some claims could have on mining communities.

BLM is collecting written commentsthrough July 28.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to