The government's program to lease billions of tons of Western coal on federal lands has been stalemated since the early 1970's by environmental suits, maladministration, and faulty data, a Senate energy panel was told yesterday.
There have been only 11 new federal coal leases granted by the Interior Department since 1973, and a virtual moratorium on leasing coal rich Western lands since the early 1970's.
Pointing to "the breakdown in the federal leasing program." Sen. Floyd K. Haskell (D-Colo.) said. "A few years ago, there was going to be a great Western coal boom."
Haskell heard from a battery of administration, state government, congressional and industry experts during the first day of oversight hearings on the government's coal leasing policy and plans to exploit massive coal reserves the Interior Department manages on public lands in 11 Western states.
"It is going to become absolutely essential to begin leasing on the federal lands in the next 2 to 3 years," said deputy Energy Secretary John F. O'Leary.
President Carter's energy plan calls for doubling coal production to 1.2 billion tons a year by 1985 - a goal that would not be possible without producing hundreds of millions of tons of mostly strip-mined coal on federal lands in arid Western states.
Assistant Interior Secretary Guy Martin laid the blame on the Nixon and Ford administrations. "This administration inherited a coal program that was not working," he said. Martin oversees Interior's Bureau of Land Management which is responsible for leasing federal coal lands.
Legislation creating the Energy Department provides for it to set energy leasing goals, while BLM continues to administer the leasing program.
Last year about 40 million tons, or nearly a third of total Western coal production, came from federal lands.