Natural Resources and Environment:

Mapping Problems May Undermine Plans for New Federal Coal Leasing

EMD-81-30: Published: Dec 12, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 12, 1980.


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Problems associated with the Department of the Interior's coal mapping program as it would effect the future leasing of coal from Federal lands are reviewed, recent actions to correct mapping problems are analyzed, and alternatives to better link coal mapping and land use planning are discussed.

Federal coal resource planning and management decisions rely on maps that are often inaccurate, unreliable, and inappropriate either to define broad planning boundaries or to support the kinds of economic, energy, and environmental trade-off decisions called for by the new Federal leasing program. Recent actions by the Geological Survey to correct the mapping problems and provide the needed data may not fill the gap. Unless a major change is made in the way basic coal data are obtained, the leasing program may not be able to make available sufficient quantities of economically minable Federal coal to meet the Nation's demands. The mapping program began as a short-term data compilation effort covering a limited portion of unleased coal lands. But, based on new mandates, the program was enlisted to provide detailed geologic maps for all Federal lands classified for possible coal leasing. Recent Geological Survey actions to improve the situation will have doubtful results because of limited resources and a lack of guidance, the decision to limit future maps to areas scheduled for leasing and thus create a major gap in information on coal development potential for lands outside lease sale areas, and lack of funding and staff to assume the projected workloads.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should better link Interior's land use planning and mapping/drilling programs and more efficiently use its in-house capability to concentrate on areas of highest interest and potential for coal leasing. To accomplish this, the Secretary should publish in the Federal Register a notice of the U.S. Geological Survey's mapping and drilling plans at the same time as the Bureau of Land Management gives public notice and requests comments on its schedule for land use planning; thus providing an appropriate time for coal companies, State governments, and the public to submit comments for use by the Survey in refining its exploration and mapping priorities. The Secretary should also establish a sufficient mapping capability in house, including funding for drilling, to (1) revise and improve the quality of needed Coal Resource Occurrence/Coal Development Potential maps; and (2) assure the linking of future mapping and drilling efforts with the Bureau's land use planning. Additionally, the Secretary should request nonconfidential coal and economic information from coal companies, State governments, and the public at the time the Bureau gives public notice on the preparation or revision of land use plans in particular areas. This notice should include (1) specific criteria to guide coal companies, State governments, and the public in submitting coal information, and (2) procedures for how and when such information will be applied in land use planning, including qualitative and quantitative criteria to be used in making tradeoff decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

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