As part of the Trump administration’s public lands giveaway, the U.S. Department of the Interior has abruptly stopped enforcing a rule that seeks to close a loophole that the fossil fuel industry has been exploiting at taxpayers’ expense. Royalties must be paid for resources taken from federal lands, but coal companies, for example, have been selling coal to their own subsidiaries at artificially low prices in order to shrink the amount of royalty owed. By some estimates, coal companies have shortchanged American taxpayers $30 billion over three decades in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin alone. Last year, the Obama administration put a moratorium on new leases for coal extraction on federal lands while the government reviewed the royalty payment regime and rectified the inequity of the system. This resulted in a rule that closed the loophole, but Trump’s Interior Department has just postponed it, claiming the need to assess “the compliance burden it puts on job creators.” In this ham-fisted effort to cheat taxpayers, the Interior Department has ignored its legal obligation to provide notice and take public comments—which could prompt a lawsuit by environmentalists.
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