Interior Responds to Wyden, Murkowski Coal Letter

February 8, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Department of the Interior (DOI) has developed an action plan and convened a task force – with a focus on sales to overseas markets – to ensure that coal companies are properly reporting and paying royalties, the leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee announced Friday. These actions come in response to questions raised in a bipartisan letter sent by Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in January. The two issued the following joint statement:

“These actions demonstrate the benefits of conducting oversight. Active engagement from the committee has triggered action on important issues that should be treated with the seriousness and attention to detail reflected in the Interior Department’s response. We are particularly pleased with the formation of a task force to ensure coal companies have paid their fair share when coal is mined on public lands and sold overseas. On this and other issues, we intend to continue monitoring the activities of agencies within the committee’s jurisdiction. And we will work closely with all of our colleagues from affected states to do so.”

Other steps in response to the letter sent by Chairman Wyden and Ranking Member Murkowski include:

•          Fast-tracking reviews of recent coal sales: The task force will undertake a two-step review of sales summaries and contracts between 2009 and 2011. This is faster than the agency’s typical audit cycle that reviews sales three years after they have taken place.

•          Reviewing older sales for misreporting: The second step of the review will include, on a risk-based approach, non-audited or reviewed mines and leases between 2001 and 2008. Both reviews will initially focus on the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, before expanding to other states such as Utah and Colorado.

•          Seeking out legal or regulatory violations: The Office of Inspector General will investigate allegations regarding coal sales to international customers via affiliated entities and pursue any violations related to the valuation of Federal coal.

•          Ongoing rulemaking: DOI will continue its rulemaking, initiated in 2011, to strengthen and simplify royalty valuation existing regulations for Federal and Indian coal that had not been updated since 1989.

The letter from DOI, Chairman Wyden and Senator Murkowski’s original letter and an accompanying fact sheet can be found below.