Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday revoked the Trump administration’s rollback of a federal coal leasing moratorium, but it’s unclear whether Haaland’s order fully reinstates the Obama-era decision.
Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said that Friday’s announcement takes no immediate action on coal development. “We are continuing to review an appropriate path forward,” she said.
The Obama administration temporarily ended coal leasing in 2016, saying it ran counter to its climate-change reduction goals. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rolled back the moratorium in 2017, prompting a lawsuit and eventually a court-ordered environmental review. The Trump administration officially lifted the moratorium in February 2020.
It’s uncertain whether Haaland’s order legally re-establishes the coal leasing moratorium.
Technically, the order ought to resurrect the moratorium, said Sam Kalen, a natural resources law professor at the University of Wyoming.
“But—and this is a fairly large but—I am not sure that it would be fair to say that there is an automatic re-initiation of a moratorium,” in part because of Interior decisions following the litigation, Kalen said.
“I suspect, however, that we may soon see yet another order that is more adequately tailored to today and that could announce what the Biden administration will now do to address the historic and well-known problems with the coal leasing program,” he said.
Environmental groups said they believe Haaland’s order reinstates the moratorium.
“We see the rescission of the Zinke order as effectively putting back in place the Obama order,” said Jeremy Nichols, director of the climate and energy program at WildEarth Guardians.
But “it’s probably a moot point,” Nichols added. “We don’t foresee this administration moving forward on coal leasing anytime soon.”
Still, the National Mining Association, which represents coal producers, said Interior has indicated that the order doesn’t change the status quo on coal. “We take them at their word on that,” NMA spokeswoman Ashley Burke said.
The rollback reversal on coal leasing was part of two secretarial orders Haaland signed Friday. The orders set up an agency climate task force and revoked 12 earlier orders that implemented Trump administration energy and environmental policy.
The climate task force will coordinate the Biden administration’s renewable energy development efforts across Interior agencies.
“I know that signing Secretarial Orders alone won’t address the urgency of the climate crisis,” Haaland said in a statement. “But I’m hopeful that these steps will help make clear that we, as a Department, have a mandate to act.”
Haaland’s order also boosts Interior’s adherence to the National Environmental Policy Act to ensure environmental analysis of agency decisions isn’t diminished.
Haaland signed a separate order Friday revoking orders signed by Zinke and David Bernhardt in 2017 and 2020.
Those Trump administration orders promoted oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and on federal lands; established page limits and other restrictions on environmental reviews under NEPA; placed restrictions on enforcement of Interior Department regulations; and altered how the department would comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.
Haaland’s orders “set up our country for success on all fronts and move us past the fossil fuel reliance and pro-polluter agenda of the Trump administration,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement.