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Zinke lifts coal lease moratorium, announces new review committee for royalties

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced March 29 that the moratorium on new federal coal leases has been lifted and a committee has been created to advise him on the value taxpayers get from resources on public land.

"All of us as taxpayers and citizens have a stake in making sure that we get value from our resources," he said on a press call, adding that the board would consist of 28 local, state, tribal and other stakeholders who would not have financial interests or business with the DOI. One focus of the Royalty Policy Committee will be ensuring that royalty and rent collection for public lands is transparent, rather than arbitrary, he said. The committee will be terminated after two years, unless it is renewed through review.

Zinke submitted a proposal to revive the committee during his tenure as a U.S. House representative.

At the same time, he called the programmatic review of federal coal leasing "costly and unnecessary," pointing out that environmental impact statement reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act sometimes take decades.

He said it is better for the world that the U.S. produce cleaner coal and other energy domestically and export it with reasonable regulations rather than allow countries in the Middle East and Africa to fill in the gap in international demand. "It is good for the environment," he said.

"There is a social cost of not supporting coal."

He said he was "proudly enthusiastic" about the executive orders issued by President Donald Trump to end the coal lease moratorium and the U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan.

"For economy, there's no doubt that having reliable, affordable and abundant energy is key to keeping jobs," he said.

Zinke also signed a secretarial order that would implement a review of agency actions, in keeping with Trump's executive order "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth." Zinke's order requires all DOI bureaus and offices to report actions they have taken or will develop to rescind Obama administration executive orders related to climate change.

Obama-era orders targeted include "Preparing the United States for Climate Change," "Power Sector Carbon Pollution Standards," "Climate Change and National Security," "The President's Climate Action Plan," "Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions" as well as the Council on Environmental Quality's "Final Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in National Environmental Policy Act Reviews."

According to the order, the deputy secretary of the DOI will inform assistant secretaries whether to proceed with changes, reconsiderations or rescissions as appropriate within 30 days. Within 90 days, each bureau and office required to change shall submit a draft of revised or substitute actions for review.