Pausing The Coal Train

— by CAP Action War Room

The Obama Administration Announces Overhaul Of Federal Coal Leasing Program

The last time rules for coal mining on tax-payer public lands were updated, smoking was allowed on airplanes, airbags weren’t required in cars, and sewage was still dumped into the ocean. But today, the Obama administration announced a package of reforms to modernize and reform the federal coal leasing program. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the plan, saying it was long past time to re-examine the coal-leasing program. “It is abundantly clear that times are different in the energy sector now than they were 30 years ago, and we must undertake a review and that’s what we need to do as responsible stewards of the nation’s assets,” she said.

The plan includes three measures to update the federal coal program to account for taxpayer interests and environmental challenges: The U.S. Department of the Interior will conduct a review to identify potential reforms to the program, direct the U.S. Geological Survey to begin annual tracking and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions that come from fossil fuel extraction on public lands, and put a temporary pause on new coal leasing, which will not apply to existing leases.

Coal companies currently have stockpiled billions of tons of unmined coal that is ready to be developed, so a targeted pause on leasing will likely have no impact on jobs, coal production, energy prices, or grid reliability. But it will keep at least 3.5 billion tons of coal from being added to the already-enormous stockpile coal companies have on public lands and allow time to figure out how to best change the current program to ensure taxpayers get their fair share from coal mined on public lands.

The current federal coal-leasing program is fundamentally noncompetitive. Under the current system, taxpayers are missing out on millions of dollars in royalties from leasing energy sources on public lands. Offshore oil and gas drilling is subject to an 18.5 percent royalty charge, but coal companies only pay a 12.5 percent royalty rate for mining on federal lands. Furthermore, royalty rate reductions, loopholes, subsidies, and self-dealing transactions further reduce the effective royalty rate coal companies pay to less than 5 percent. Because the current system fails to ensure mining companies pay royalties on the true market price of the coal they extract, coal companies are able to take advantage of billions of dollars of de facto subsidies.

A flawed royalty system is not the only way the true cost of coal is being undervalued. The environmental impacts of coal, including its contribution to climate change, also impose a cost to the American public. More than 57 percent of all emissions from fossil fuel production on federal lands comes from the combustion of coal. Coal mining in the Powder River Basin alone, which spans across Wyoming and Montana, is responsible for 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Strip mining and failed mine reclamation produce air and water pollution, which add to coal’s environmental costs. Furthermore, some companies are trying to get out of their responsibility to clean up their mines on public lands, which could leave taxpayers holding the bag for billions of dollars in reclamation costs.

BOTTOM LINE: Not much has stayed the same since the 1980s and the energy sector is no exception. Reform of the federal coal program is long overdue. The Obama Administration’s steps to modernize and reform the program will help reduce the environmental and climate impacts, ensure that taxpayers are getting a fair return, increase transparency and accountability, and hold companies responsible for cleaning up their mining operations.

The article above was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

Shell Annual Report Delivers A Fossil-Fueled Bombshell

Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.

— By Brett Fleishman


Royal Dutch Shell buried a bombshell in its recently released 2013 annual report.

Amid 200 pages of predictably and mind-numbingly dry text, the world’s seventh-largest oil company foreshadowed something big. Here are the exact words, which Shell buried in the  report’s “risk factors” section:

If we are unable to find economically viable, as well as publicly acceptable, solutions that reduce our CO2 emissions for new and existing projects or products, we may experience additional costs, delayed projects, reduced production and reduced demand for hydrocarbons.”

Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.

Shell gets that unless things change quickly, another big financial market bubble has the potential to bring people to their knees.

It’s called the “Carbon Bubble,” and it’s a very simple equation.

Fossil-fuel companies already hold more coal, oil, and gas reserves than people and industry can possibly use before climate change reaches the point where life as we know it can’t continue.

Simply put, these companies have more product than they can sell. And their value is based on their total reserves. That means fossil-fuel assets are significantly overvalued.

Why hasn’t Wall Street imploded over this yet? Well, remember how “nobody” could see the housing bubble coming?

The truth is, Wall Street is still profiting from fossil fuels. And when economists and analysts tried to warn people about the housing bubble, just like some of them are now attempting to do about the carbon bubble, their foresight fell on deaf ears.

And if memories of the last economic crisis or even the phrase “market bubble” give you goose bumps, ask yourself how exposed you are to investments in oil, gas, and coal — the three kinds of fossil fuels. Does your pension plan, retirement plan, or family nest egg invest in the likes of Shell Oil?

As a senior analyst for, an activist organization that fights climate change, my job is to help persuade college endowments, city pension funds, and foundations to divest from fossil fuels.

In my conversations (really they’re debates) with boards of trustees and treasurers of multibillion-dollar pension funds and endowments, the biggest concern is always risk and return.

People charged with these investment decisions want to maximize returns.

Well, as our ability to burn carbon safely diminishes and the reserves of fossil-fuel companies increase, those investments will continue to become riskier and less profitable.

The logic is so clear, even Shell doesn’t think they are a good investment. The oil giant is looking for “viable solutions to reduce” its own CO2 emissions.

Shell’s not the only oil giant reckoning with this reality. Bowing to shareholder pressure, ExxonMobil just announced plans to produce a first-of-its-kind report showing how the growing trend in climate change activism is destabilizing their financial security.

“The deal is a big victory for the relatively new movement by some investors to get energy companies to consider how climate change policies will affect the bottom line,” according to Politico Morning Energy.

If you do one thing for your future, consider divesting from fossil fuels. It’s a great way to minimize your vulnerability to a serious financial crisis while investing in a more hospitable future for your children.

Brett Fleishman is a senior analyst for  Distributed via OtherWords.

21 Things Republicans Have Demanded In Exchange For Not Shutting Down The Government Or Tanking The Global Economy



Since the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2011, they have repeatedly attempted to use the prospect of a government shutdown or a debt default as leverage. A shutdown would furlough close to a million federal workers and cut off essential services for millions more Americans, while a default on U.S. debt, even according to Speaker John Boehner, could devastate the global economy. While the recent debate has focused on Obamacare, that is just the latest in a series of demands made by Republicans. The following is a list of things that have been, at various times, demanded by Republicans under threat of a government shutdown or default:

1. A balanced budget amendment [Link]

2. Approving Keystone XL [Link]

3. Eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood [Link]

4. Medicare privatization [Link]

5. Tax reform, as outlined by Paul Ryan [Link]

6. The REINS Act, which would require Congress to approve significant federal regulations [Link]

7. Means-testing Social Security [Link]

8. Defunding Obamacare [Link]

9. Allowing employers to eliminate insurance coverage for birth control [Link]

10. An expansion of off-shore drilling [Link]

11. Preserving all the Bush tax cuts [Link]

12. “Trillions” in budget cuts [Link]

13. Slashing funding for food stamps [Link]

14. Protecting mountaintop strip mining [Link]

15. Stripping the EPA of authority to regulate greenhouse gases [Link]

16. Loosening regulation on coal ash [Link]

17. Delaying Obamacare implementation by one year [Link]

18. Repealing a tax on medical devices [Link]

19. Eliminating Social Service Block Grants [Link]

20. Expanding drilling on federal lands [Link]

21. Restricting the child tax credit [Link]

In just over 2 years, Republicans have been successful in extracting around $1.7 trillion in budget cuts or 72% of the total deficit reduction over that period. Under President Bush the government never shut down and the debt limit was raised five times with bipartisan support and without conditions.

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

A Letter to Governor Sandoval

— originally drafted by Christian Gerlach and edited by Vickie Rock

Dear Governor Brian Sandoval,

Can you please explain why the Nevada Division of Water Resources has denied new water wells to farmers and ranchers due to drought in northern Nevada, yet that same Division has approved permits for oil companies like Noble Energy, a corporation that plans to use millions of gallons of our ground water to hydraulically fracture in a known seismic zone?

Farmers and ranchers actually return something of value to humanity.  Frackers, on the other hand, infuse our limited water resources with hundreds of nasty chemicals, including known carcinogens like benzene and glycol-ethers (precursors to plastics).  In that process, the water consumed by frackers is rendered unusable, except for more fracking.

Governor, you are allowing state agencies, that are supposed to protect our citizenry and natural resources, to disregard measures that ensure the public’s safety. SB390, as passed, makes it such that companies like Noble Energy can literally frack Nevadans, without any fear of recourse for any misdeeds or damage the create environmentally or ecologically.

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is being paid by Noble Energy to do studies on the areas that are going to be fracked.  And, according to the Nevada Division of Minerals, the results of DRI’s study can be kept confidential at the request of Noble Energy for potentially, an undisclosed amount of time. Studies are NOT being done independently of Noble Energy, and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection won’t be required until 2015 to come out with its own study of fracking’s impact.  How is this not a conflict of interest? Something that puts people’s livelihoods on the line? The people of rural Nevada don’t have the luxury of LakeTahoe or LakeMead. Northern Nevadans have water wells that could easily be poisoned through fracking processes.

On March 13th 2013,  KNPR’s State of Nevada had Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser for the American Petroleum Institute, as a guest. She misled KNPR’s listeners as to the safety of fracking.  Ms. Dougher failed to mention that the process is exempt from seven major federal regulations:

Really?  Please explain how SB390 which you signed into law will protect our municipal water supplies.  I’d love to hear or read that explanation.

Another fact, which was taken offline by Nevada Public Radio (@KNPR), is that a man by the name of David Focardi commented about the interview.  Mr. Focardi commented that he had worked on oil rigs in Nevada and that there was fresh water up to 14,000 feet deep. I reached out to Mr. Focardi, but he has yet to answer any of my correspondence.

According to Mr. Lowell Price of the Nevada Division of Minerals, fracking would take place in the 7000 to 9000 foot depth range.  And while our ground water aquifers may be at depths of say 14,000 feet, our “ground” is riddled with fault lines. Those fault lines mean that there may not be an impervious layer of rock between where hydraulic fracturing is proposed to take place and the actual aquifer feeding our communities with drinking water.  Those fault lines may also provide connections between subterraneous channels and the different aquifers of water supporting our communities.  Once that water is contaminated, what happens to our communities.  The only good that may come from fracking, if you really can call that “good” — is that I guess that would mean you won’t be grabbing any of that water from contaminated northern Nevada aquifers for use in Las Vegas and its suburbs.  But then, that’s a whole different letter for another day.

Fracking processes require thousands of gallons of water-laden frack fluid PER MINUTE pumped under high pressures into deep horizontally drilled oil/gas wells.  Frack fluid could be released through a fault line or a fracture created by fracking into municipal ground water. When I spoke to someone at the Desert Research Institute they said that a geological study is being done and any “study” would remain the proprietary information of Noble Energy.  So, even if Noble Energy or the Desert Research Institute found fault lines they won’t be required to tell anyone about it.  Reliance on secret and proprietary studies conducted by organizations that would have significant incentive to conceal any information that might have an adverse effect on approval, is tantamount to malfeasance in governance on your part.

I realize that if Noble Energy had to release information as to where the oil is, that could allow other oil companies to come in and undercut Noble Energy.  But there needs to be a work-around to ensure our water resources are not placed at risk.  The risk to human health and life should matter more than any sum of profit for a single corporation.

So I ask you Governor why frack with us or allow others to do so? There is already oil drilling in Nevada done without Fracking. Why must we frack? I say bring oil jobs to Nevada if you must, but don’t frack!  Now the reason I post this is because of what you promote, Governor Sandoval.  You keep saying it’s about jobs and that Hydraulic Fracturing would bring jobs to Nevada. The truth is, these jobs won’t be widespread nor will they sustainable lest there are thousands of oil/frack wells, like there are in Texas or North Dakota.  But, Mr. Governor, we do NOT have the water resources to make that happen.  And what water we do have, won’t be usable for human consumption once Frackers are done with it.  So. Mr. Governor, when all is said and done, what jobs you create would be for naught, as without drinkable water, Nevadans will no longer be able to live anywhere near the wastelands created by the Frackers.

Boulder Taking On Golliath

When you’ve got giant energy companies this scared, you must be doing something right.

The only way to counter the monies golliath corporations can flood communities with outright propaganda and lies is with people running a truly grassroots campaign advocating to put their values into action.  Only an army of “people” can defeat the war chests of corporation after corporation.