Issues of concern to people who live in the west: property rights, water rights, endangered species, livestock grazing, energy production, wilderness and western agriculture. Plus a few items on western history, western literature and the sport of rodeo... Frank DuBois served as the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003. DuBois is a former legislative assistant to a U.S. Senator, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior, and is the founder of the DuBois Rodeo Scholarship.
Friday, February 26, 2016
Senators question Jewell on raising cost of federal coal
Senators from Western coal states questioned Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Tuesday about the need for a three-year moratorium to review the federal coal leasing program, describing it as an assault on the industry.
Jewell defended the moratorium as necessary to ensure taxpayers get a fair return on the resource amid low coal prices. Many factors including competition from cheap and cleaner-burning natural gas are affecting coal demand and prices, she told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"I recognize the industry is struggling right now for a variety of reasons," Jewell said. "But we have been criticized roundly for not generating a fair return for taxpayers — not having any competition in the leasing process for coal. "
Nearly 40 percent of the nation's produced coal comes from huge open-pit mines in the Powder River Basin in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana. Most of that coal belongs to the federal government.
The moratorium announced in January has been part of a recent run of bad news for the West's coal industry, including bankruptcy filings by major mining companies Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources.
Environmentalists have long been critical of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's lease-by-application process in which coal companies nominate new tracts to be mined. The coal tracts go up for bid, but they seldom draw more than a single bid submitted by the nominating company operating an adjacent mine. Leasing has slowed to a trickle since 2012, and higher royalties could drive already low demand for coal to zero, said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming.
"Doesn't it seem to you that if the demand goes to zero, that the revenue coming in is going to go to zero as well for the government?" he asked Jewell.
Coal companies already are paying very low prices for federal coal, as little as $1 a ton or less, Jewell pointed out...more