Tester weighs action against Biden’s coal leasing plans

By Garrett Downs | 05/17/2024 06:44 AM EDT

Sen. Jon Tester, in one of the year’s toughest reelection contests, has tangoed with the administration on climate issues before.

Sen. Jon Tester speaks with reporters at the Capitol.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) speaking with reporters at the Capitol. Francis Chung/POLITICO

President Joe Biden’s proposal to choke future mining in the nation’s most productive coal basin is putting Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester between a rock and a hard place — again.

Biden’s Interior Department on Thursday unveiled Bureau of Land Management plans that would overturn Trump-era decisions and effectively end new federal coal leases in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming. Tester, the only federally elected Democrat from ruby-red Montana, is facing a tough reelection battle this year.

Biden’s actions to curb fossil fuels and burnish his climate bona fides ahead of the 2024 election have often put the administration at odds with vulnerable Democrats from energy states like Tester. Republicans are seeking to capitalize on the issue electorally amid high energy prices.


In a statement to E&E News, a spokesperson for Tester said he is reviewing the proposal and is prepared to push back against the administration.

“Senator Tester will always stand up to President Biden’s energy policies when they don’t make sense for Montana,” the spokesperson said. “He is reviewing the proposal and encourages Montanans to make their voices heard during the public comment period.”

Tester’s GOP challenger, Tim Sheehy, quickly pounced on the proposal in a post on X, formerly Twitter — casting it as an assault on American energy.

Sheehy also tied BLM’s moves to Director Tracy Stone-Manning — a former adviser to Tester whom Sheehy called an “eco-terrorist.”

“BLM, run by former@JonTester advisor and eco-terrorist Tracy Stone-Manning, continues their war on American energy,” Sheehy wrote. “We need to stand strong against the radical Biden-Tester climate cult agenda.

“Make American energy dominant again!” Sheehy added.

Should Tester come out forcefully against the rule, it would be far from his first battle with the president over climate rulemaking.

Tester has joined Republicans on resolutions and other legislation to overturn Biden’s rules. Most recently, he voted to overturn an EPA tailpipe emissions rule that would boost the use of electric cars.

Tester has also voted to nullify the administration’s Waters of the United States rule and a Department of Labor effort to boost environmental, social and governance investing.

BLM’s rule would not grind all coal mining to a halt in the Powder River Basin, allowing existing leases to continue producing. But it underscores the administration’s goal to move away from fossil fuels and draws a sharp contrast to former President Donald Trump, who has declared he will “drill, baby, drill” if reelected.

“This is a monumental decision that will save lives, safeguard our environment and significantly cut carbon emissions in the United States,” said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans at Earthjustice.

“We are grateful that the Biden administration has shown the courage to end coal leasing in the Powder River Basin and at long last turn the page on this climate-destroying fuel.”

Congressional Republicans condemned the move, with Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) saying it will “kill jobs and could cost Wyoming hundreds of millions of dollars used to pay for public schools, roads and other essential services in our communities.”

The plans are set for publication in Friday’s Federal Register. That will start a 30-day comment period running through June 17.