June 10, 2019
(Sheridan, WY) Powder River Basin Resource Council, Northern Plains Resource Council, Dakota Resource Council, Western Colorado Alliance, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils, through comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) submitted today, asked the Department of Interior (DOI) to re-initiate its comprehensive review of the federal coal program and to fully evaluate alternatives and options for federal coal management in the Powder River Basin and other Western U.S. coal regions.
The BLM asked for comments as part of a court-ordered evaluation of the consequences of revoking a Secretarial Order issued by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in January 2016, which initiated a comprehensive review of the federal coal program and put in place a moratorium on new federal coal leasing while the review would take place. The Jewell Order started a programmatic environmental impact statement for reviewing the federal coal program. As part of the Order, the BLM held six public meetings around the country in the summer of 2016. At those public meetings, a broad-spectrum of Americans supported reform, including ranchers, hunters and public lands recreationists, small business owners, conservationists, academics and economists, and climate activists. The Jewell Order was revoked through a Secretarial Order issued by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in March 2017.
Citizens in Western coalfields, especially in the Powder River Basin – a region of Wyoming and Montana that supplies over 40% of the nation’s coal – have long called for reforms to the federal coal program that would better maximize revenue for the American public and better protect air, land, and water resources on public lands and neighboring agricultural areas.
The Resource Councils wrote to BLM in their comments: “We ask BLM to use this decision as an opportunity to update BLM’s coal leasing policies, regulations, and planning documents to reflect our national commitment to combat climate change, protect water, air, wildlife and other natural resources, and provide a fair return to American public – the owners of the federal coal resource.”
DOI’s federal coal leasing program, which governs the sale of publicly-owned coal has been plagued by scandal since the 1980s. The long history of mismanaging taxpayer-owned resources has cost local, state, and federal governments billions of dollars in potential revenue. In June 2012, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis released a report documenting that taxpayers lost an estimated $28.9 billion in revenue from federal coal leases over 30 years as a result of the BLM failing to get fair market value for coal mined from public lands. The IEEFA report, coupled with inquiries from members of Congress, led to audits of the federal coal leasing program by the Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office. Both audit reports exposed flaws in DOI’s coal valuation methodology and called DOI practices outdated. The Jewell Order was issued as a direct response to these long-standing problems.
“Review of the federal coal program is sorely needed and long overdue. American taxpayers, mining states and coal communities – especially now – must receive a fair return for federal coal,” stated Bob LeResche, Powder River Basin Resource Council Vice-Chair. “Given today’s declining coal markets, review and reform will help everyone balance leased coal with market demand and finally account for the significant impacts coal creates to our air, land, water, agriculture and other important economic activity in our states.”