Mineral Payments

A house-sized dump truck hauls dirt and rock Tuesday March 26, 2013 at the Black Thunder coal mine in northeast Wyoming's Powder River Basin near Wright, Wyo., source of almost 40 percent of the nation's coal production. The federal government says it is withholding $110 million in mineral payments to 36 states as a result of automatic spending cuts that took effect this month. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

Mead Gruver

BILLINGS — Environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on coal leasing in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming until the federal government reviews the program.

Representatives of 21 groups including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club requested the moratorium Monday in a letter to newly confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The Powder River Basin produces more coal than any other area of the country.

As companies seek to ramp up coal exports, the environmentalists say the government needs to make sure companies are paying proper royalties. They also want more attention given to the climate change impacts of greenhouse gasses emitted when coal is burned.

The Interior Department's Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have been investigating alleged problems within the coal leasing program at the request of Congress.

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