The Obama administration on Friday imposed a moratorium on new coal mining leases while it conducts a review of the federal leasing program, the next step in its climate change agenda.
"Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we're taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review," said Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell.
The step comes after the president hinted in Tuesday's State of the Union address that he would be making changes to the federal coal program as part of a push to move the nation off of "dirtier" forms of energy like coal and oil.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reacted to the change by saying it's part of the president's "war on coal." Karen Harbert, head of the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, said it's "[a]nother day, another front on the war on coal from this administration."
"At this point, it is obvious that the president and his administration won't be satisfied until coal is completely eradicated from our energy mix," she said. "Their foolish crusade takes away one of America's greatest strengths — our diverse mix of energy sources. If the president wants electricity rates to skyrocket — as he once said he did — he's on the right path."
Jewell said the change will not impact mining under current leases. She also said the review process would not impede the nation's ability to produce affordable electricity.
"During this time, companies can continue production activities on the large reserves of recoverable coal they have under lease, and we'll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation's ability to meet its power generation needs," Jewell said.
"We are undertaking this effort with full consideration of the importance of maintaining reliable and affordable energy for American families and businesses, as well other federal programs and policies," she said.
The environmental community cheered the action.
"We hope this moratorium is the first of many bold actions to come that will protect our climate and our communities for future generations from fossil fuel extraction on public lands," said Amanda Starbuck, climate and energy director for the Rainforest Action Network.
"This measure signifies a key step towards sunsetting a practice that has led to immense environmental destruction, human and health impacts and is one of the greatest sources of carbon emissions worldwide," said Starbuck.