The Trump administration’s decision to lift a moratorium on coal sales from public lands could hasten the release of more than 5 billion tons of greenhouse gases, but officials concluded Wednesday it would make little difference in overall U.S. climate emissions.

That conclusion from the Bureau of Land Management comes after a judge ruled last month the administration had failed to consider the environmental effects of resuming coal sales from public lands.

Sales were largely halted in 2016 under President Barack Obama over worries about climate change. But the moratorium was rescinded by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke soon after President Donald Trump took office, fulfilling a campaign pledge from the Republican.

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2014, file photo, rail cars are filled with coal and sprayed with a topper agent to suppress dust at Cloud Peak Energy's Antelope Mine north of Douglas, Wyo. Four states with climate change worries are asking a judge to stop the Trump administration from selling coal from public lands. Attorneys general from California, New Mexico, New York and Washington are due in a U.S. courtroom in Montana on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, to argue the sales put the climate at risk and shortchange taxpayers. Federal officials say the Trump administration's decision to lift a moratorium on coal sales from public lands could hasten the release of more than 5 billion tons of greenhouse gasses. (Ryan Dorgan/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP, File)
FILE – In this Jan. 9, 2014, file photo, rail cars are filled with coal and sprayed with a topper agent to suppress dust at Cloud Peak Energy’s Antelope Mine north of Douglas, Wyo. (Ryan Dorgan/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP, File)

Critics said the Trump administration’s contention that resuming sales would have negligible effects on the environment was absurd given the scope of the federal coal program.

About forty percent of coal burned in the U.S. comes from federal leases, primarily in Western states including Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Montana and New Mexico. Companies have mined about 4 billion tons of coal from federal reserves in the past decade, contributing $10 billion to federal and state coffers through royalties and other payments.

In Wednesday’s report, the Bureau of Land Management analyzed applications from companies for coal leases totaling more than 2.5 billion tons of the fuel. Just over 5 billion tons of greenhouse gases would be produced by burning the fuel for electricity over the next 20 years, the agency said.

FILE - In this April 4, 2013, file photo, a mechanized shovel loads a haul truck that can carry up to 250 tons of coal at the Spring Creek coal mine near Decker, Mont. Federal officials say the Trump administration's decision to lift a moratorium on coal sales from public lands could hasten the release of more than 5 billion tons of greenhouse gasses. The report comes after a court ruled last month that the administration failed to consider the environmental effects of its resumption in 2017 of coal sales. A moratorium had been imposed under President Barack Obama over worries about climate change. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)
FILE – In this April 4, 2013, file photo, a mechanized shovel loads a haul truck that can carry up to 250 tons of coal at the Spring Creek coal mine near Decker, Mont. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)

That’s equivalent to just over 1 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector for 2017, according to the agency.

The agency’s conclusion was based on the assumption that coal sales would have resumed as normal once the moratorium ended in 2019.

Environmentalists who sued to reinstate the moratorium said that assumption was flawed. They also blasted officials for providing only a 15-day comment period.

“This seems to be both absurd and tremendously insulting to the public,” said attorney Michael Saul with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of several groups that sued to block the moratorium. “Economics plus physics tell us that mining more cheap coal means burning more coal, which means more CO2 in the atmosphere and a hotter planet.”

The attorneys general of California, New Mexico, New York and Washington — all Democrats — also had challenged Trump’s move to end the moratorium.

A spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, which intervened in the court cases on behalf of the Trump administration, declined to comment on Wednesday’s report.

The industry group has said previously that it was the Obama administration that violated federal law, by imposing the moratorium without first analyzing its effects on the coal industry.

In February, Interior Department officials had announced a sale of coal leases on public lands in Utah by issuing a statement headlined “The War on Coal is Over.” They said the sale would not have been possible if the administration had not overturned the Obama-era moratorium.

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