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On January 11th, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a comprehensive review which found that coal companies are being given subsidized access to public lands and depriving taxpayers of millions of dollars of royalties every year. The review strongly stressed the need for more study on fair coal leasing rates, the climate impacts of leasing federal lands, and finding clean energy alternatives that are more consistent with U.S. climate objectives.
In addition to the review, BLM has committed to undertaking a more wide-ranging study of coal leasing on federal lands, which account for 40 percent of the coal produced in the United States. The report summarizes the hundreds of thousands of public comments received as part of the scoping process for the BLM’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which is expected to last through 2018. The report, one of the Obama Administration’s final actions on the environment, finally acknowledges the role that leasing of BLM land to coal companies has on energy markets and climate, providing path towards a fairer system that accounts for the true social costs of federal coal leasing.
“We applaud BLM for making this much needed assessment and moving forward with overhauling this broken system,” said Connie Wilbert, Director of Sierra Club’s Wyoming Chapter. “Our current model for federal coal leasing amounts to a backdoor subsidy for the coal industry and at the expense of the taxpayer, air quality, and climate. By leasing these lands to coal companies at below market prices, we are missing opportunities to use these spaces to support existing and emerging industries in the west, like tourism and clean energy.”
The report highlights the short-sightedness of giving an unfair advantage to a dirty, polluting fuel like coal at the same time as our changing climate is leading to increased forest fires, insect infestation, and chronic drought throughout the West.
“The effects of coal mining on public lands don’t end at the mine itself,” said LJ Turner, a longtime Wyoming rancher. “Coal mining drains the aquifers and natural streams that are so important to ranching, fishing, agriculture and other jobs that are part of Wyoming’s identity. This review will hopefully end an unfair system that tips the scales in favor of the coal industry at the expense of Wyoming residents and our way of life.”
This program gives coal companies bargain basement prices for access to public lands, acting as a de facto subsidy to the coal industry at the expense of local communities.
Public lands are owned by the people and we should manage them as if they are our own,” said Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company. “Instead, we’re allowing coal companies access for pennies on the dollar, costing taxpayers billions in lost revenue. That’s unfair, and it’s bad business. We hope this review process simply puts a fair price on public assets.”
Editor’s Note: It’s unclear if President Trump’s recent and forthcoming executive orders will prevent BLM from continuing with it’s plans to conduct this review.