CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced plans yesterday to auction off vast coal reserves in Wyoming over the next five months, unleashing a significant but controversial power source amid uncertainty about clean and safe energy development.
The four coal leases next to existing strip mines in the Powder River Basin — the largest coal-producing region in the United States — total 758 million tons and will take between 10 and 20 years to mine.
Last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill raised questions about offshore oil drilling and the current Japanese nuclear power plant crisis has renewed concern about nuclear energy, but coal has its own baggage, especially when it comes to climate change.
About 40 percent of the nation’s coal comes from Wyoming, and coal from the Powder River Basin used in power plants accounts for nearly 14 percent of all US carbon dioxide emissions, according to the US Bureau of Land Management.
Even so, the Obama administration remains committed to an “all of the above’’ energy policy that relies on a variety of renewable and nonrenewable sources, Salazar said.
“The president knows this approach is the approach we will embrace in the future. The president also knows that we need to embrace and encourage safe development of traditional energy: coal, oil, gas, and nuclear,’’ Salazar said.
The mining industry has anticipated the auction of the federal coal reserves ever since companies started applying for them in 2004. It accuses the land management bureau, which is under Salazar’s purview, of putting up unnecessary red tape and adding uncertainty.
Selling the coal will benefit Wyoming, bringing in anywhere from $13.4 billion to $21.3 billion, according to the bureau.