Yesterday marked the official close of public comment period on changes that the Department of Interior (Interior) can make to its program for leasing coal on public lands. Now it's time for the Obama Administration to overhaul that broken system.
To mark the end of that comment period, NRDC and the CEO's of 11 national, regional and state conservation organizations sent a letter to Secretary Jewell.
On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we write to thank you for hosting a series of listening sessions and providing us with the opportunity to offer our views on modernizing the federal coal program. We are encouraged by the listening sessions and look forward to working with the Department as this process advances. We agree that this outdated program should be reformed to ensure that taxpayers receive a fair return on the sale of their publicly-owned resources, that the program is managed in a way that is consistent with the President's Climate Action Plan, and that the program is transparent to the public. To meet these shared economic and environmental goals, we call on the Department of the Interior to immediately close existing royalty loopholes, raise royalty rates, set minimum bids for each coal region, establish criteria to determine whether coal leases are in the public interest, and begin using the social cost of carbon to evaluate the climate impacts of federal coal leases. Further, we call on the Department of the Interior to pause further coal lease sales until the proper reforms have been put in place.
Secretary Jewell has noted that "critical studies from the Government Accountability Office and Interior's Inspector General have made it clear that we could be getting a better return for taxpayers." And to be fair her agencies have proposed or are considering fixes to parts of the coal leasing program.
Yet it's not just the suspension and the transmission that need to be fixed, it's the whole vehicle. That's why we must have at least a pause in new sales until the program can be overhauled.
But what's perhaps most needed--as our letter points out--are fossil fuel policies that are consistent with the Administration's climate goals.
The Pope has spoken, and Paris approaches. The time for listening is over. The time for meaningful action is now.