Cantwell Outlines Priorities to Jewell on Reforming the Federal Coal Leasing Program

14 Senators Sign Onto Letter to the Secretary

May 27, 2016

Washington, D.C. – Today, led by Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), 14 senators outlined three priorities for Interior Secretary Sally Jewell regarding upcoming reforms to the federal coal leasing program. The Interior Department is undertaking a review of the program and updating the programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) under which federal coal is leased.

In the letter, the senators commend Secretary Jewell for her efforts to modernize the federal coal program, while ensuring that the pause on new leasing will not disrupt the power sector today. They note that stewardship cannot take place on autopilot, and provide three imperatives that should guide the reform process:

(1) Get the science right.
(2) Reconsider the government’s market role.
(3) Reconsider how to balance multiple uses over time.

First, the senators believe that the United States cannot continue to lease coal without taking into account the fact that it is the most significant source of power sector greenhouse gas emissions. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must ground the new PEIS in the new reality.

Second, the fact that 90 percent of federal lease sales since 1990 had single bidders suggests that Western coal markets are structurally non-competitive. Too often the government has been a passive auctioneer, rather than a steward. Given the diverse sources of electricity generation available today and the high costs of climate change, the current policy is unwise and outdated.

Lastly, the effects of mining a ton of public coal today may rebound on public lands for centuries, damaging opportunities for recreation, water supply, wildfire resilience and even other extractive uses like grazing and timber. A huge disparity exists between the high, long-term costs of burning the public’s coal and the low, short-term return from selling it. The BLM must address this disparity.

The senators also committed to fixing other aspects of the federal coal programs, including deficient financial assurance rules, such as self-bonding; accelerated mine reclamation; miners’ pension and health care funds; and assistance for coal country to diversify, transition and rebuild.

The senators on the letter include: Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkeley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
Download a PDF of today’s letter to Secretary Jewell here.
Read Sen. Cantwell’s letter to Secretary Jewell on self-bonding of coal companies.
Read Sens. Cantwell and Durbin’s request for an investigation into self-bonding.