Reforming The Federal Coal Leasing Program To Protect Taxpayers, Workers And The Environment

Under President Obama’s leadership, the United States has taken historic strides to cut carbon pollution and address climate change. From the Paris Climate Agreement, to limits on carbon from power plants, to Fuel Economy Standards, we are closer then ever before to a clean energy future. But, his administration still has more work to do, and one significant way that the administration can address climate change is to reform the outdated and wasteful coal leasing program on federal lands.

The Federal coal leasing program gives the Bureau of Land Management the authority to lease approximately 570 million acres of federal land for coal mining. As it now stands, taxpayers are being shorted–coal companies are taking advantage of loopholes that allows them to pay less in royalties. It’s important to reform the program now so that taxpayers receive fair returns from any development of coal on public lands.

In addition, it’s critical that this program is designed to meet our nation’s energy needs while also reducing the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. As the program is designed now, there is not enough long-term vision for taking into account how coal production on these lands impacts the environment or how to hold companies accountable for clean up needed after they mine. The United States set forth ambitious goals under the Paris Climate Agreement, and we believe that under a reformed coal leasing program, we can successfully meet these goals and effectively manage the production of coal on federal land.

To do that, we should better understand and manage the carbon emissions from coal production. That’s why we support the U.S. Geological Survey’s effort to establish and maintain a public database to account for annual carbon emissions from fossil fuels developed on federal lands. It only makes sense to know how big the problem really is and then move forward with solutions to tackle it.

Reforming the Federal coal leasing program is also an opportunity to help communities and workers impacted by America’s energy transition. The U.S. is moving away from coal–especially during the last decade–to cheaper and cleaner energy sources. While new energy technologies will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, some workers and communities will be impacted by the transition. Some of the royalties collected on public land should be directed into transition assistance programs for individuals and communities that are hardest hit by the transition.

We shouldn’t be leaving towns and workers behind as we move to a clean energy future; they should be the communities and people most benefiting from it. Reforming this program could be a huge boost to making sure that happens.

The time has come to not only reform the Federal coal leasing program, but to look at it through a new lens. By reconstructing this program, we can make coal communities stronger, ensure taxpayers aren’t missing out on royalties for using public land, and bring us one step closer to a clean energy future.

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