Interior Department outlines reforms for federal coal program

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By Valerie Volcovici

<span class="articleLocation”>The U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday
recommended federal coal leasing reforms to ensure taxpayers
receive the fair value of the fuel and account for its impact on
climate change, but the incoming administration could derail
those measures.

The department’s Bureau of Land Management released the
findings from its first study of the federal coal program in
three decades. The report comes a year after Interior Secretary
Sally Jewell halted new federal coal leases while the agency
conducted the review.

That freeze in new coal leases will continue.

Federal coal, primarily from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin,
accounts for more than 40 percent of all of that fuel mined in
the United States and produces for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse
gas emissions.

“We have a responsibility to ensure the public – including
state governments – get a fair return from the sale of America’s
coal, operate the program efficiently and in a way that meets
the needs of our neighbors in coal communities, and minimize the
impact coal production has on the planet that our children and
grandchildren will inherit,” Jewell said on Wednesday.

“The only responsible next step is to undertake further
review and implement some of these commonsense measures.”

With Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s Jan. 20
inauguration less than two weeks away, it will be up to his
appointed Interior secretary to decide whether to adopt the
policy recommendations needed to modernize the leasing program
and whether to lift the moratorium on coal leasing.

Trump’s pick to head the Interior Department, Montana
Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke, has supported legislation to
lift the coal leasing moratorium on federal and tribal land.

Trump has called for an immediate reversal of the federal
coal mining moratorium.

However, some analysts said market conditions for coal had
reduced demand for new mining and that the most recent federal
lease auctions drew no bids, especially as the electricity
sector uses more natural gas.

Jewell said a review of the program was decades overdue and
necessary after government and watchdog reports found the Land
Management Bureau was not properly accounting for the fair
market value of coal and called for more transparency in the
leasing process.

The report offers recommendations for increasing
transparency of the leasing program, boosting protection for
private surface owners and preventing wasted natural gas from

It also suggests adjusting rental rates for leased coal for
inflation, stronger financial and environmental requirements for
coal operators bidding on federal leases, and other measures to
make the lease process more efficient.

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