Letter: Coal industry must adhere to appropriate rules – Billings Gazette, Aug. 6, 2016

August 8, 2016

Categories: Coal, Letters, News

Communities and miners in Montana and across the West are dealing with the fallout from the coal industry’s ongoing economic meltdown. It could be a while before it’s clear what the industry will look like in the long term.

Major coal mining companies are going bankrupt. There is a glut now of oil and gas with production costs lower than coal. Solar and wind energy is being developed at a significant pace and the technology continues to improve the cost.

Even with these market forces, coal is not going away in the near future. Mining companies, communities and government officials now must start thinking about transitions to the reality of less coal mining. I was deeply involved in the BLM coal leasing program over three decades ago. I felt the program was sound. Today, however, it makes sense to take a good look at the way coal is mined on our public lands, which is what the Interior Department is doing. During the comprehensive review of the federal coal program, the first in more than three decades, new coal leases are on hold.

Montanans must be concerned that only 14 percent of the strip-mined land has been reclaimed and there exists significant groundwater pollution at mining sites. Out of 450 square miles of public lands mined in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, only 46 square miles meet the final reclamation requirements. A report by the National Wildlife Federation and partners, “Undermined Promise II,” found that taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $3.5 billion nationwide if coal companies don’t restore the land as they pledged. This is not a little matter for ranchers or those of us who hunt these public lands.

Mike Penfold



220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154