The Biden administration is moving to end future leasing in a large swath of America’s top coal-producing region.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed Thursday to effectively ban future leasing in a sizable portion of the Powder River Basin, a coal-rich geologic formation covering parts of Wyoming and Montana. The Powder River Basin provided about 43% of the coal produced in the U.S. in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

BLM published a final plan after considering alternative options that would have maintained the status quo or limited, but not ended, future coal leasing activity in the area. The agency opted to go forth with the “no leasing” proposal, which would “[make] no BLM-administered coal available for leasing within the planning area,” according to the final impact statement’s text.

Environmentalist organizations cheered the move and asserted that BLM’s decision will keep 6 billion tons of coal in the ground. The area covered by BLM’s decision Thursday is confined to northeast Wyoming, and includes parts of Gillette, Wyoming.

“This is what true leadership on climate and energy looks like,” Jeremy Nichols, a senior advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said of the decision. “I applaud the Interior Department in recognizing we shouldn’t be saddled with more costly coal but instead empowered with clean, affordable energy that safeguards our climate for future generations.”

Republican Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, however, sharply criticized the proposal.

“President Biden continues to wage war on Wyoming’s coal communities and families,” Barrasso said in a statement addressing the policy. “This short-sighted plan will kill future coal leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin – the most energy rich area in the country. This will kill jobs and could cost Wyoming hundreds of millions of dollars used to pay for public schools, roads, and other essential services in our communities.”

Notably, former President Barack Obama tried to impose a moratorium on coal leasing in the Powder River Basin when he was in office, but a federal court ultimately shot it down in February, according to WyoFile.

The Biden administration has aggressively regulated coal use to further its sweeping climate agenda since coming into office in 2021. At the 2023 United Nations climate summit, the administration joined an international pledge to not building any new coal-fired power plants and phasing out those that are still in operation, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, China — the world’s second-largest economy and by far its leading polluter — permitted an average of two new coal plants per week in 2022, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. China also accounted for 95% of global construction activity on new coal-fired power plants in 2023, according to a report by Global Energy Monitor.

BLM did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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