BLM Gathers Public Input as Part of Long-Overdue Review of Federal Coal Program

Coal mining operation in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.
Credit: EcoFlight

Earlier this month, the federal government initiated its first review of the federal coal program in over 30 years (!!!). The Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, hopes that an overhaul of the out-dated program can “provide a fair return to taxpayers and reflect its impacts on the environment, while continuing to help meet our energy needs.” While the Nixon and Reagan Administrations both initiated similar reviews, outdated policies and existing industry-friendly loopholes had already cost taxpayers and state governments more than $30 billion in royalties as of 2012.

It’s easy to see how things have gotten out of hand by looking at what we currently charge mining companies for coal from our public lands—88 cents per ton in Wyoming, 23 cents per ton in Colorado, 52 cents per ton in Utah, and a whopping 12 cents per ton here in Montana.

It’s not just about lost revenue, although you’d be hard-pressed to find a state that couldn’t use a little more money for things like schools and road improvements. Coal companies are actually passing on additional costs to some communities in the form of environmental degradation, wildlife impacts, and health threats.

This review will require the government to consider how, when, and where they should lease future coal on public lands. They will have to account for public health and environmental impacts, and they’ll have to justify the return to American taxpayers for the use of their public resources. And they’ll have to consider how other uses of our shared public lands (e.g., hunting, hiking, camping, and wildlife-watching) will be protected from future mining.

The Bureau of Land Management has organized a series of hearings across the country to take comments from the public as part of their work towards producing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, which will lay the groundwork for updating the federal coal program.

The first public meetings were in Casper, Wyoming and Salt Lake City, Utah, and meetings continue across the country:

  • May 26: Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville, TN
  • June 16: Pittsburgh Convention Center, Pittsburgh, PA              
  • June 21: Sheraton Seattle Downtown, Seattle, WA
  • June 23: Two Rivers Convention Center's Avalon Theatre, Grand Junction, CO

Show up and make your voice heard. Tell the BLM that you’re not ok with quarter-century-old rules cheating taxpayers out of billions of dollars. Tell them that our public resources shouldn’t be sold off to industry for the price of a Big Mac. Tell them that public lands should be restored after mining as required by federal law. Tell them to protect our public lands from special interest abuses that foul them for the rest of us. Tell them that it’s about time our coal program joined us in the 21st century. 

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