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Coal mining to expand on public lands in Wyoming

By Jim Spellman, CNN
The federal government is opening four tracts of public land in Wyoming to coal mining, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says.
The federal government is opening four tracts of public land in Wyoming to coal mining, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says.
  • Leasing bids, royalties to bring in in up to $21.3 billion, interior secretary says
  • Salazar: Four tracts in Powder River Basin are expected to yield 758 million tons of coal
  • "Coal is a big deal here in Wyoming," Gov. Matt Mead says
  • Governor also hopes for nuclear energy expansion, citing state's uranium reserves

(CNN) -- Coal mining on public lands will expand in the coming months in Wyoming, as the federal government makes more coal-rich land available for lease by mining companies.

"Coal is a critical component of Americašs comprehensive energy portfolio, as well as Wyoming's economy," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at a news conference Tuesday.

The leases are expected to bring in between $13.4 billion and $21.3 billion in leasing bids and royalties to the federal government and the state of Wyoming. Wyoming will receive 48% of those revenues, with the rest going to the federal government.

The four tracts of land in northeast Wyoming's Powder River Basin are expected to yield about 758 million tons of coal, Salazar said.

"Wyoming is the No.1 coal producer from public lands, contributing more than 400 million tons annually to our domestic energy supply, providing nearly 40% or the coal used by power plants nationwide to provide electricity nationwide," Salazar said.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, applauded the move.

"Coal is a big deal here in Wyoming," Mead said. "We need the energy, we need the jobs that come with energy, and we need the electricity."

The announcement comes at a time of uncertainty for America's energy needs. Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa has sent oil prices up, and problems at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan have led to questions about the safety of nuclear power.

"We ought not be subjected to the ups and downs of what happens in the Middle East or in Libya, so part of it is moving us towards an energy-independent America," Salazar said.

On the nuclear issue, the interior secretary said that safety precautions will be looked at in light of the problems in Japan, but the administration will continue to push for an expansion of nuclear power in the United States.

"Nuclear energy as a significant component of the energy future of the United States remains unchanged," Salazar said.

Mead said he also hopes to see nuclear energy expand in Wyoming, noting that the state has the largest amount of uranium reserves in the country.

Government regulation of the nuclear industry is "too cumbersome, too onerous" and is deterring growth of the nuclear industry, the governor said, adding that he he hopes federal regulations will be altered to allow nuclear plants to become operational quickly.

"I think it can be done safely," he said. "You can have all the safety and all the environmental stuff you can, but you need a timeline that is reasonable."