July 8, 2013 Read More →

US House panel looks at Western coal industry

“BILLINGS, Mont.— Congress is poised to enter the debate over whether taxpayers are getting a fair return on coal mined from public lands in the Western U.S. as a House committee plans a Tuesday oversight hearing on the industry.

An Interior Department inspector general’s investigation last month estimated $62 million in potential lost revenues due to the agency undervaluing coal. The Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a group with environmental ties, has pegged lost revenues much higher — more than $30 billion since the early 1980s, when many of the rules governing the industry were last revised.

A second report on the leasing program is expected soon from the Government Accountability Office, while a separate Interior investigation underway since February is examining whether mining companies are paying sufficient royalties on exported coal.

But Democrats are taking aim at problems in the leasing and royalty programs. A spokesman for the Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee called the Powder River Basin a ‘shining example of a persistent, consistent giveaway to coal companies.’

IEEFA’s Tom Sanzillo, a former deputy comptroller for the state of New York, said past problems with the government’s coal program prompted temporary halts in leasing. The first came under President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, followed more recently by coal leasing suspensions under President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s and President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Sanzillo said. Sanzillo doesn’t expect that to happen in 2013, because he said the politics surrounding coal are now tilted in the industry’s favor.”

-Matthew Brown, Associated Press

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