House member Rep. Zinke (MT) is taking a last-minute gamble: he’s attempting to undermine the Department of the Interior’s proposal to modernize oil, gas and coal royalties by blocking any money for the effort in the year-end government funding bill. In doing so, he’s advocating for preserving a loophole in how coal is valued that shortchanges American taxpayers by hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Rep. Zinke’s amendment does not have popular support, and doesn’t speak for the majority of Montanan taxpayers. When he first introduced the amendment over the summer, the widely-read Montana Standard editorialized that he was pushing “to quietly take money away from taxpayers.”
And preserving these royalty loopholes, as Rep. Zinke’s amendment would do, is not a favored position. An April 2016 poll conducted by Hart Research Associates found that 70% of likely voters had a negative reaction to hearing that coal companies are able to undercut taxpayers by selling to their own subsidiary companies—which is exactly what Rep. Zinke wants to allow.
This action by Rep. Zinke’s on behalf of the coal industry is not surprising, as it’s no secret that he’s been bankrolled by coal dollars in the past. He’s received over $10,000 in campaign donations from major coal companies since 2013, including but not limited to a major supporter of this rider—Arch Coal. And earlier this year, Rep. Zinke signed his name to a letter from Montana Sen. Daines that was a near-carbon copy of the comment letter circulated by none other than Cloud Peak Energy, also a supporter of this rider.
The bottom line is that Rep. Zinke isn’t standing up for the needs of Montanans—instead, he’s once again choosing to stand with the special interests of industry.