We’re coming up on an important milestone in the history of coal mining in the United States. In January, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced a moratorium on new federal coal leases. In addition, it announced it was conducting a comprehensive review of the federal coal program and would be preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). This is great news as our federal coal leasing program hasn’t been reviewed in over 30 years and, as a result, coal companies are mining taxpayer-owned coal at cut-rate prices while Western communities are left with the aftermath.
As part of its comprehensive review, DOI is seeking input from the public “on the issues and policies that should be outlined in the PEIS, including topics such as whether Americans are receiving a fair return for federal coal, how market conditions affect coal, how federal coal affects the environment, and how these and other factors impact coal-dependent communities.”
You have until July 23—just 4 days!—to tell the federal government what it should consider in its review of our federal coal program.
Please send an e-mail with your comments today (details are at the end of this blog post). Here are a few reasons that this review matters:
1. The review can ensure that taxpayers get their fair share from public lands coal leasing.
Loopholes in the existing, antiquated program costs U.S. taxpayers and state governments more than $1 billion a year in lost royalties. That’s money that could be used for much-needed improvements to local schools, roads, and infrastructure. In fact, in 2013, the DOI’s Office of Inspector General found $2 million of lost bonus revenues in recent lease sales and $60 million lost in potentially undervalued lease modifications. The DOI Inspector General also found that an undervaluation of even 1 cent per ton in fair market value calculations could cause a revenue loss of $3 million in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
2. The review can ensure that coal leasing guidelines join us in the 21st century.
Republican President Richard Nixon called for a nearly identical review of coal leasing guidelines in 1971. Since then, Western economies and energy development have entered the 21st century, but our leasing program hasn’t kept up. Changes in technology and the broad desire for more investment in clean energy sources have changed, too. For example, the solar industry now employs over 200,000 people—vastly more than the coal industry. Reforms should better reflect these kinds of changes that our nation is making regarding where and how we should get our energy to secure a more sustainable future for generations that follow. To that end, we need to ensure that clean, inexpensive energy sources are able to compete, instead of focusing on flooding the market with subsidized coal sold at cut-rate prices.
3. The review will allow the DOI an opportunity to assess the current and future environmental impacts of the coal leasing programs on public lands, waters, and wildlife.
In April 2012, more than 90 percent of mined lands in Montana and Wyoming had not yet been submitted for the final phase of bond release. Companies aren’t reclaiming mined lands as required by federal law. For example, Peabody carries a load of $1.4 billion in self-bonding obligations; it’s unclear that Peabody will come through on cleanup now that the coal giant has declared bankruptcy. As more and more of our public lands and wildlife habitats are sacrificed to extract coal, we lose out on recreation, hunting, and wildlife-viewing opportunities, as well as the economic revenue associated with them. A full review of the federal coal program must ensure that future development safeguards our public lands, streams, and wildlife so Americans can continue to enjoy them for generations to come.
So, please take a few minutes and email your comments to BLM_WO_Coal_Program_PEIS_Comments@blm.gov. Here are a few points to consider including in your comments:
1. Reforms must end coal subsidies to ensure the American public is getting a fair deal.
2. Reforms must require that analyses of mining impacts account for all of the effects of coal mining, including climate change.
3. Reforms must safeguard taxpayers by requiring coal companies to fully, and in a timely manner, reclaim mined lands, especially before they’re able to lease more public coal.
Thank you for speaking up and taking action on behalf of our public lands and our energy future.