On Friday, the U.S. Interior Department announced it was launching a review of the federal coal leasing program, aiming to evaluate potential reforms, to ensure the program is structured to provide a fair return to taxpayers, to reflect coal consumption’s impacts on the environment, while continuing to help meet our energy needs. During the program review, new coal leases will be paused. Additionally, Secretary Jewell announced reforms to improve transparency and administration of the federal coal program including a database of carbon emissions from fossil fuels developed on federal land, and facilitating capture of methane emissions from coal mine. The actions follow President Obama’s call during Tuesday’s State of the Union Address to improve management of fossil fuel resources and move the country towards a clean energy economy.
“Even as our nation transitions to cleaner energy sources, building on smart policies and progress already underway, we know that coal will continue to be an important domestic energy source in the years ahead,” said Secretary Jewell. “We haven’t undertaken a comprehensive review of the program in more than 30 years, and we have an obligation to current and future generations to ensure the federal coal program delivers a fair return to American taxpayers and takes into account its impacts on climate change.”
“Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.” – President Obama, 2016 State of the Union.
The federal coal program review will examine concerns about the federal coal program that have been raised by many stakeholders in Government and the Public. When completed the review will produce a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that will look at issues like:
- How, when, and where to lease
- How to account for the environmental and public health impacts of federal coal production
- How to ensure American taxpayers are earning a fair return for the use of their public resources
According to the Interior Department press release, the pause on new coal leases is consistent with previous reviews of the coal leasing program in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It does not mean there will be a halt on coal mining, just on new leases.
A fact sheet accompanying the announcement gives some additional information on the additional reforms announced on Friday. These are:
- Improves transparency in the leasing process, such as by requiring BLM State and field offices to post online in an easily accessible format notice of each pending request to lease coal or to reduce royalties;
- Clarifies the process through which the BLM may consider requests for royalty rate reductions;
- Conditions discretionary exchanges or sales of federal coal deposits to another owner on the requirement that the new owner obtain surface owner consent before allowing any coal development; and
- Facilitates the capture of waste mine methane by providing that new or readjusted leases would authorize the coal lessee to capture and sell waste mine methane (if the authorization would not conflict with pre-existing oil and gas lease interests).
While it isn’t explicitly said what will result from this review, the agenda it’s starting with accounts for something woefully lacking from current fossil fuel policies. It’s that there are grave and severe impacts from fossil fuel consumption that are not reflected in the price of those fuels. If the cost/impact of climate change were incorporated into the price of fossil fuels, their price would skyrocket.
Given that a review of this sort will take some time (2-3 years at least) to finalize, it will be up to the next President’s Administration, and the next President’s Interior Sectary, to finish this review. It is the next President who will implement whatever recommendations arise from the review. And therefore the choice of the next President is of great importance to the outcome we all get.