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

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Fracking Exports

Selling liquefied natural gas to foreign markets doesn’t serve U.S. interests.

By Deb Nardone
Deb Nardone
In recent years, the natural gas industry has plunged deeper and deeper into the reckless practice of “fracking,” putting communities nationwide at risk of dirty, dangerous pollution and practices that are exempt from many clean air and water laws. Now gas profiteers have realized that there’s even more money to be made by liquefying the gas and shipping it overseas. So what if it comes at the cost of our air, water, and health?

We could soon see more gas exported per day than we currently use to generate electricity. That would mean a lot more fracking — a dangerous process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and a secret cocktail of toxic chemicals underground to force out natural gas.

Outrageously, the natural gas industry doesn’t have to disclose what chemicals it uses to mine gas through fracking, nor are companies required to dispose of hazardous waste in a safe manner or limit the amount of toxic pollution they spew into the air. In many places, fracking has sickened local residents, disrupted underlying geology and aquifers, contaminated water supplies, and polluted the air.

But the environmental costs of natural gas exports don’t stop there. Once the gas is extracted, it needs to travel from production sites to coastal export terminals through hundreds of miles of pipelines. Such pipelines could cut across private property, scenic waterways, and public parks, putting our air, water, and land at risk. Where existing pipelines are used to transport natural gas, they will have to be expanded.

Then there are the environmental impacts associated with building the natural gas export terminals, or expanding existing terminals. These terminals will often require sensitive estuaries to be dredged to make room for massive tankers, and the huge industrial machinery needed to liquefy gas will increase air and water pollution. Expanding facilities and ship traffic will also take their toll on coastal communities, their economies, and the environment.

Finally, the energy needed to cool and liquefy natural gas to be shipped overseas leaves a carbon footprint on par with coal — increasing our dangerous reliance on dirty fossil fuels and worsening climate disruption.

Before authorizing natural gas exports to countries such as Japan and China, the Department of Energy must first conduct a thorough public analysis to determine whether those exports serve the public interest. This analysis is critical to understand the environmental and economic impacts associated with natural gas exports and to build a deliberate energy policy that protects the interests of the American public.

Our nation — and the rest of the world — can do better by finding alternative ways to power our homes and businesses. Clean, renewable, and homegrown energy exists today and is already being heavily used nationwide. In Iowa, wind power generates 20 percent of the state’s electricity. The city of San Antonio is retiring its coal-fired plants in favor of solar power, which is already creating hundreds of jobs.

Ultimately, the only safe, smart, and responsible way to address our nation’s energy needs is to look beyond dirty energy and scale up clean sources like wind, solar, and geothermal. Let’s protect our air, water, and our health by moving beyond natural gas.


Deb Nardone is the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign.http://sierraclub.org/naturalgas.  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)