Today, the Department of the Interior took a long-awaited and much-needed step to reform the broken coal leasing program for our western public lands. Interior announced that they will put a pause on all new coal leases for public lands while they look into modernizing the existing system and close loopholes that undermine the current program.
Taxpayers deserve a fair share from the development of coal on their public lands—and with the current broken system, they’re not getting it. For example, arcane loopholes from the 1980s allow companies to sell coal to themselves at a lower-than-market price, both delaying and decreasing royalty payments that taxpayers then receive in return—royalties that the public deserves. This is one of many deficiencies in the coal program that must be fixed.
This under-the-table practice means that western states like Wyoming and Montana often lose out on between $19 million (Montana) and $126 million-$491 million (Wyoming) annually, enough money to support free tuition for all university students in Wyoming or to hire nearly 500 teachers in Montana.
The coal leasing pause, and the reforms to follow, are a result of many calls from local communities, taxpayers, landowners, businesses and even sportsmen/recreationists who are impacted by the incredibly outdated program. “Leases need to be competitive, and sales need to be transparent to assure the company is paying its full royalty,” said Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense in the August 2015 listening session hosted by BLM in Billings, Montana.
The good news? Coal mines under existing leases on public lands have enough to coal to last, on average, for the next ten to fifteen years—and that’s with no new leases. That means there won’t be any immediate impacts on jobs or production due to this pause in the leasing process while the system is fixed, and leasing can resume once that happens. The reforms are a win-win situation for both American taxpayers and western economies.
When things are broken, you fix them or else risk making the problem worse. It’s great to see Interior taking a big step forward to increase transparency and accountability in our nation’s federal coal program—ensuring in the process that American taxpayers get what they deserve in return.