For a long time, the federal government has given millions in taxpayer-funded subsidies to companies that want to mine for coal on public land — money that could go toward education, defense, and paying down our country’s massive debt. Fortunately, the Department of Interior has stepped up to do something about this problem by introducing a rule to revisit the way royalties are charged on coal that is mined on public land.
Unfortunately, Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke is on the brink of introducing a plan to to block work on Interior’s proposed rule to update how coal is valued. Interior’s rule is aimed at modernizing an old rule that essentially allows companies to dodge the royalties owed to the public for production on public lands—cheating taxpayers out of their fair share.
Rep. Zinke, however, doesn’t like Interior’s proposed change—and it’s no wonder, given the outcry from some of his biggest backers, the coal industry. Back in April, the coal industry put up a big stink in an effort to extend the comment period on the rule. They were able to secure an extension, in part because they got a number of elected officials—to whom they’d donated money—to send in a letter that was almost verbatim what the coal companies themselves had sent to Interior.
If you need proof, look no further—Rep. Zinke has received nearly $10,000 total in campaign contributions from the Alpha Natural Resources PAC, the Arch PAC, and from the Peabody Energy Corporation PAC since 2013. And guess who, coincidentally, happen to be among the major producers in the Powder River Basin? That’s right, you guessed it—those same three companies.
The math is pretty clear: Coal companies can spend a little to back a Congressman who will protect their massive taxpayer-funded subsidies. That’s a good deal for coal companies and Rep. Zinke, but it’s bad for the rest of us.