CHEYENNE — Wyoming's low-sulfur coal industry got a big boost from the federal government today with the announcement that the Interior Department will conduct four major coal lease sales in the Powder River Basin.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, flanked by Gov. Matt Mead, said the Obama administration is committed to broadening the nation's energy portfolio and believes that coal must be part of that mix.
"Coal is a critical component of America's comprehensive energy portfolio, as well as Wyoming's economy," Salazar said at a news conference at Cheyenne's new South High School, which was largely paid for by state coal tax and royalty funds.
"Wyoming is the number one coal producer ... and contributed more than 400 million tons of coal last year, more than 40 percent of the coal used in the nation's coal-fired power plants," the secretary said.
Salazar's announcement was greeted by big smiles from representatives of some of the state's largest coal companies and by Mead, who said, "It's a great announcement for Wyoming and the country."
"Energy is important to our state, but energy also is important to the United States" and its economy and quality of life, the governor said.
The Interior secretary touted Wyoming's other vast energy resources, including wind, uranium, oil and gas, but he said coal "will continue to play a role" as the nation makes sure "we have a broad energy portfolio."
Salazar's announcement was that the BLM plans four competitive coal lease sales starting in May, offering a combined total of an estimated 758 million tons of low-sulfur coal beneath more than 7,400 acres of land in the southern Powder River Basin, part of the nation's largest coal-mining region.
Total bonus bids and royalty payments from the sales are expected to generate $1.34 billion to $2.13 billion, of which the state of Wyoming would get nearly half.
The four lease sales are planned for:
* May 11, West Antelope II North Coal Tract, near Cloud Peak Energy's Antelope Mine, 2,838 acres containing an estimated 350 million tons of mineable coal.
* June 15, West Antelope II South Coal Tract, near the Antelope Mine, 1,909 acres containing an estimated 56 million tons.
* July 13 - Belle Air North Coal Tract near Alpha Coal West's Belle Ayr Mine, 1,671 acres containing an estimated 222 million tons.
* Aug. 17, Caballo West Coal Tract, near Peabody subsidiary Caballo Coal Co.'s Caballo Mine, 1,0254 acres containing an estimated 130 million tons.
In addition, Salazar said BLM will decide later this year whether to move forward with four additional proposed lease applications for nearly 14,000 acres containing an estimated 1.6 billion tons of mineable coal.
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