In his second term, President Obama has taken increasingly forceful steps to fight climate change. He’s forged emissions-limiting deals with China and pushed for the first international climate accord. Most importantly, last year his administration initiated the Clean Power Plan: a new set of EPA regulations meant to slowly phase out the nation’s array of coal-burning power plants and reduce its carbon emissions overall.
Those rules were meant to constrain the demand for coal, limiting how much of what’s mined ever actually enters the atmosphere. But many economists have long maintained that if the U.S. truly wanted to mitigate climate change, it would have to target the supply of coal—how much of the fossil fuel is mined—as well. That’s why activists opposed the Keystone XL pipeline for so many years, and why green groups have since rallied around the slogan, “keep it in the ground.”
On Friday, the Obama administration announced its most significant measure yet to do just that. The Department of the Interior said that it would not grant any new leases to mine coal from public land until it reviewed the federal coal program. That program produces about 40 percent of all U.S. coal: Virtually all coal mined west of the Mississippi is technically owned by the federal government. It’s expected that the government will eventually make it much more expensive—and effectively unfeasible—for companies to mine that mineral.