Interior Department takes comments on federal coal leasing

Patrick Kelly

A series of listening sessions on the federal coal leasing program began Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The discussions will come to Denver on Aug. 18.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management are hosting the sessions in an effort to seek public comment on how the BLM can ensure that the American taxpayers receive a fair return on federal coal resources.

BLM is responsible for leasing coal on approximately 570 million federally owned acres. Over the past 10 years, BLM-managed lands produced around 5.1 billion tons of coal valued over $72 billion. According to BLM, this production generated $7.9 billion in royalties and nearly $4 billion in revenues from rents, bonuses, and other payments.

“Coal is going to continue to be an important part of our nation’s energy mix in the future,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell earlier this month at the Center for Strategic International Studies. “But the Government Accountability Office, our inspector general, and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle agree that the federal coal program needs reform.”

One of the main aspects of the program being considered for revision is the royalty rate for coal. Proponents of modifications to coal leasing told DOI and BLM on Wednesday that coal companies are gaming the system to avoid the 12.5 percent royalty rate established by federal statute.

“Americans should get a fair return on all federally owned resources,” said David Burns, Sierra Club member, at Wednesday’s session. “By many estimates this flawed system has resulted in losses of nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.”

In the immediate vicinity of Craig there are two coal mines, Colowyo and Trapper, and the second-largest coal fired power plant in Colorado, Craig Station. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association owns Colowyo mine and operates Craig Station.

Drew Kramer, public affairs manager for Tri-State, wrote in a statement, “While we are still studying proposals from the U.S. Department of the Interior to amend the federal coal program, we are concerned about any changes that would unreasonably drive up costs for our 44 not-for-profit member electric cooperatives and public power districts. We do appreciate that the BLM will be holding a number of listening sessions across the west, and we do plan to participate in the Aug. 18 session here in the Denver metro area.”

Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program director for the environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians, said he appreciates Jewell’s effort to create dialogue about modernizing the nation’s coal program.

“We’ve got to come up with a plan that not only deals with royalties but deals with the climate implications here and really does chart the federal coal program on the path toward keeping it in the ground,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first in a series of five listening sessions on revisions to the federal coal program hosted by the Department of the Interior.

Future sessions include:

• Aug. 11, 1 to 4 p.m., at the Hampton Inn Lewis and Clark Conference Center, Billings, Montana.

• Aug. 13, 1 to 4 p.m., at the Campbell County Library Wyoming Room, Gillette, Wyoming.

• Aug. 18, 1 to 4 p.m., at the Marriott Denver West, Denver.

Aug. 20, 1 to 4 p.m., at the Courtyard Marriott, Farmington, New Mexico.

Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or Follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.

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