Wyoming - Black Thunder Coal Operation

State: Wyoming

In January 2016, the Obama Administration announced a halt to new coal mining leases on public lands as it considers an overhaul of the federal leasing program. The move reflects a statement by the preident who said earlier, “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”

The Black Thunder coal mine sits in the The Powder River Basin, which contains one of the largest coal deposits in the world. Its dragline excavator is the biggest in the world and cranks out enough coal to load up to 25 miles of railroad cars per day. Mines in the area are looking to expand, which has raised concerns about the impacts of coal mine expansion in the area, and the lack of oversight when it comes to the federal government requiring mines to reclaim the land and restore the water. In 2014, Western Organization of Resource Councils filed an appeal to a plan approval for the nearby North Antelope Rochelle Mine to develop new leases, arguing that Peabody has failed to reclaim lands affected by its mining operations in the area.

Also at issue is the process through which the coal leases are sold. A study of coal leasing in the area found that, despite rules adopted in the 1980s devised to ensure competition, more than 80 percent of sales in the past 20 years had received only one bid. The report said the process for computing the value of the leases was faulty, costing the government millions.

In early 2016, Arch Coal announced its plans to file for bankruptcy. The company hopes to reduce its debt by $4.5 billion and to continue its operations. Environmental groups hoped that the federal government would not continue to reduce Arch’s royalty rates and otherwise prop up the company, given the outsized role greenhouse gas emissions from coal play in climate change. They are also also worried about the implications of Arch’s bankruptcy for the reclamation of its massive surface mines in Wyoming.