Coal is an organic sedimentary rock that forms mainly from plant debris, and contains at least 50% (by weight) carbon compounds. The plant debris usually accumulates in a swamp environment. Coal is combustible (i.e. it burns) and is often mined for use as a fuel. In the United States, coal is the primary fuel used to generate electricity.
The Role of the Forest Service
As a surface managing agency, the Forest Service participates with the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management during exploration and leasing of government-owned coal resources where they occur on National Forest System (NFS) lands. The coal resource can be leased to a qualified party for development (mining) under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, and its amendments. The Forest Service has consent authority to BLM issuing leases on NFS lands, and can stipulate that mining activities be designed to protect the natural resources of the National Forests and Grasslands.
Coal is currently produced from six national forest units in five states from both surface and underground mines. Coal production for National Forest System lands accounts for over 25% of the coal produced in the U.S.
Managing coal activity also requires the Forest Service to interact with the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining, or OSM, and individual State agencies under the terms of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Under this law, these agencies are responsible for issuing coal mining permits. As a federal land managing agency in this process, the Forest Service works with these agencies to determine the post-mining land use, reclamation requirements and protections for natural resources on NFS lands.
Livestock graze on reclaimed surface from a coal mine on Thunder Basin National Grasslands, WY
Links of Interest
More information on the federal coal management program is available at the following sites:
- Bureau of Land Management's website on Coal
- Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's website Regulating Coal Mines
- U.S. Energy Information Administration's website Nonrenewable Coal