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Zinke: 'The War On Coal Is Over'

Laurel Morales/KJZZ
file | staff |
One of the Navajo Generating Station's three 750-megawatt generators.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to give tribes more sovereignty when it comes to regulating industries such as coal. He spoke to reporters Wednesday after signing two orders to advance American energy independence one of those lifting a moratorium on federal coal leases. 

Secretary Zinke comes from Montana where the Crow Nation relies heavily on the coal industry. He quoted former Chairman Old Coyote when he said, “‘a war on coal is a war on the Crow people.’”

When asked about the hundreds of Navajo workersfacing a coal-fired power plant shutdown in 2019, Zinke said there is a social cost of not supporting coal.

“Within the Bureau of Indian Affairs we’re looking at what we can do specifically to allow the tribes more sovereignty and less regulation,” Zinke said. “The tribes can make their own choice on a lot of these decisions that have otherwise been encumbered with layers and layers of bureaucracy.”

Last year the Obama administration put a moratorium on coal leases on federal land to take a closer look at the fees charged to the industry and coal’s impact on the environment. Coal fired power plants release thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide, which have serious health and environmental impacts. 

But Zinke said it’s better to produce energy here where there are regulations than in some countries where there are none. He called the moratorium “punitive” and “heavy handed.” 

“The war on coal is over,” Zinke said. “Smaller communities have a voice and that voice is being heard.”

The secretary also formed a committee to keep track of things like the fair market value of natural resources and revenue from federal and Indian mineral and energy leases. 

Laurel Morales was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2011 to 2020.