Federal coal leasing program looks at another sale

The federal coal leasing program has been broken for years. But that isn’t stopping Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department from considering selling a tract of hundreds of millions of tons of publicly-owned coal.

Cloud Peak Energy is proposing to expand its Antelope Mine near Wright, Wyoming. Interior’s Bureau of Land Management is offering to sell them 441 million tons of federal coal to do so.

Federal coal leasing program stumbles

There are many problems with leasing an additional half-billion tons of coal to Cloud Peak when demand for coal is decreasing:

  • The federal coal leasing program consistently fails to achieve a fair return to taxpayers, according to the Government Accountability Office and Interior’s Office of Inspector General. BLM usually offers coal leases for barely $1 per ton. This enables companies to lock-up billions of tons of public coal on the cheap.
  • BLM claims the coal is sold in a competitive auction. But more than 90% of coal lease sales in the last three decades have had only a single bidder. BLM knows that this tract is intended solely for Cloud Peak Energy.
  • Reviews of the federal coal leasing program show that fire-sale prices and single-bid sales have subsidized the coal industry by nearly $30 billion over the past three decades.
  • Antelope has more than 20 years worth of mining reserves, according to Cloud Peak’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • BLM ignores the effect that more coal leasing would have on global climate change. Burning 441 million tons of coal would spew almost one billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s equal to adding nearly 5 million cars to the road for 20 years.
  • Cloud Peak has not achieved a single acre of final reclamation bond release at the Antelope Mine. That means  the company hasn’t fully cleaned up any of what they’ve dug up at Antelope.

Program review tossed

These problems were set to be addressed had Zinke not thrown out the systematic review of the federal coal leasing program begun by the previous administration. Unfortunately, coal communities, their land and water, the global climate, and taxpayers could suffer because of Zinke’s decision.

Because Zinke chose to ignore the problems with the federal coal leasing program, BLM must consider the cumulative impacts of the program in each lease application they process.

What you can do

Let BLM know that the environmental impact statement for the Antelope coal lease must address the impacts of the federal coal leasing program on

  • Greenhouse gas emissions,
  • The local environment,
  • Federal revenue, and
  • Local economies in coal-producing regions.

You can send your comments on WORC’s Action Page. Comments are due Sept. 29, 2017.

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