In 954-Page Letter, Wyoming’s Powder River Basin Blasts BLM’s War On Coal

The top elected county officials of nearly 70,000 people who live in Wyoming’s coal heartland of the Powder River Basin blasted the BLM on Tuesday for its rules to end coal in a massive 954-page letter submitted to the agency.

Pat Maio

June 18, 20244 min read

Black thunder coal mine trains 10 27 22
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The top elected county officials of nearly 70,000 people who live in the Powder River Basin’s coal heartland of northeast Wyoming want the federal government to give them back their long-term access to dig for coal on public lands.

The commissioners for Campbell, Converse and Johnson counties submitted a massive 954-page joint letter of protest to the Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday to let the federal agency know they don’t want the government to end coal mining on public lands in the PRB as it would turn the economic vitality of the region into a wasteland.

The nearly 1,000-page letter was submitted to BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning and raises serious concerns about her agency’s May 16 proposed rule for the BLM’s Buffalo, Wyoming, field office that halts coal production in the Cowboy State under existing public land leases before 2041.

"If coal leasing is discontinued, and specifically for thermal energy purposes, BLM must take a hard look at and analyze where sufficient energy resources will come from to meet energy grid demands in the United States,” the letter states.

Coal leasing on federal land in the PRB has brought in billions of dollars in revenue to Wyoming and its coal mining industry, as it supplies roughly 40% of the thermal coal needed by power plants owned by electric utilities across the U.S.

“The counties' economic viability is highly dependent on the ability to produce, market and deliver mineral and energy products to consumers not only in the counties but within the state and across the country,” according to the protest letter.

“Our ability to continue with a viable federal coal leasing program is essential to the long-term health of our economies and federal agencies must respect the custom and culture of local communities and to work towards sincerely striking a balance with land management directives,” the letter states.

The 12 active surface coal mines within the Buffalo field office produced about 230 million short tons of federal coal in 2023, down from 446 million tons in 2008, according to data provided by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

In Wyoming, the BLM manages about 18.4 million acres of public lands and 42.9 million acres of federal land with mineral deposits. But in the PRB, the federal agency oversees 800,000 acres of BLM land and 4.7 million acres of federal land with mineral deposits.

The protest filed by the counties is the result of a seemingly obscure federal court order out of Montana in May that puts a funeral date of 2041 for coal in northeastern Wyoming where the three counties encompass over 13,200 square miles of territory.

Wasted Investments

The estimated 4.36 billion short tons of coal currently under lease by the Powder River Basin’s 12 surface mining operations would wrap up production in 2041. This is based on the current clip of mining volumes projected in the region.

While interested parties like the three counties of Campbell, Converse and Johnson had until Tuesday to file their protest letter with the BLM, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has until mid-July to comment on the proposed rules.

The protest letter also includes a petition signed by 1,054 residents of Campbell County asking the BLM’s Stone-Manning to reconsider the coal leasing ban.

“It is baffling that a federal agency would have such disregard for our local communities, state, industries and workforce that invoke tireless effort into ensuring that the lights stay on across this country to provide reliable, affordable energy — not to mention investment of billions of dollars to responsibly address advanced technology to curtail carbon dioxide emissions — all for not (sic),” the protest letter states.

The letter also raises concerns about the BLM halting coal leasing and drawing to a close any support of coal export potentials to China and India as a way to counteract "domestic demand reductions.”

The federal government should support and promote all opportunities to export coal products overseas to meet these global demands for energy, the letter says, adding that, “This would be a win-win strategy for Wyoming, the U.S. and the world.”

Pat Maio can be reached at

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Pat Maio


Pat Maio is a veteran journalist who covers energy for Cowboy State Daily.