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Interior advances proposal for Okla. met coal lease

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Interior advances proposal for Okla. met coal lease

Evans Coal Co.'s proposal to mine coal on 1,270 acres of federal land in Oklahoma would have no significant environmental impact, according to assessment by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Evans wants to mine an estimated 3.3 million tons of metallurgical coal in Haskell and LeFlore counties using underground mining operations and entering from land the company has already surface mined, according to a notice posted by the bureau's Oklahoma Field Office.

The bureau, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, analyzed the potential direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of leasing the 1,270-acre tract for mining and an alternative that would limit the lease to 940 acres.

Evans anticipates mining between 200,000 and 400,000 tons of coal over eight to 16 years, depending on the strength of the coal market, according to the assessment. Trucks would transport the coal to a port the company owns just south of the Port of Keota, and barges could then move it to the Mississippi River.

Expanding metallurgical coal mining into more states, including Oklahoma, is one of the ways the National Coal Council suggested maximizing U.S. coal exports in a report prepared at the request of U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Either of the alternatives considered in the assessment would account for less than 1% of the state's and LeFlore County's annual particulate matter emissions and less than 2% of Haskell County's, the bureau said, and greenhouse gas emissions would be an "incremental contribution" that would not affect the climate.

"This incremental increase is not expected to change air quality at the state or county level," the agency said.

Environmental groups have filed several lawsuits in recent years seeking to compel federal agencies to consider the cumulative effects of burning coal when they conduct environmental assessments of coal leases.

The assessment did not examine water quality impacts to the Kerr Reservoir because the coal haulage and transfer "would be a continuation of actions already permitted" and the tonnage is expected to make up less than 4% to 7% of Oklahoma's total 2014 waterborne commerce in the area. Neither proposal is expected to damage the quality or quantity of surface or groundwater, according to the assessment. Subsidence under Club Lake and surrounding dwellings could be prevented by "regulatory mechanisms" if the larger tract is approved, the bureau said, and that area would be excluded from the smaller tract.

Because the assessment found no significant impact, the agency will not prepare an environmental impact statement or supplement the assessment.

The bureau will hold a public hearing for comments on the assessment, proposed sale, fair market value and maximum economic recovery of the tract's coal resource from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Jan. 7, 2019, at McCurtain City Hall in McCurtain, Okla. Comments are due by the close of business Jan. 11, 2019, and can be submitted online or mailed to April Crawley, BLM Oklahoma Field Office, 201 Stephenson Pkwy., Ste. 1200, Norman, OK 73072.