December 2, 2015

Sens. Markey, Whitehouse, Blumenthal to Obama: Reform Coal Leasing Program to Protect Climate Change Goals

Senators introduce legislation that would increase the royalty rate for coal produced on federal lands, prohibit overseas sale of federally-owned coal

Washington (December 2, 2015) – As President Obama joined with world leaders to help craft an international agreement on climate, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called on the President to reform the federal coal leasing program to protect America’s climate change goals. In a letter sent yesterday, the Senators called on President Obama use his executive authority to direct the Secretary of the Interior to significantly increase royalty rates to account for the social cost of carbon pollution from coal production on public lands and use his existing authority to prohibit the export of coal produced from public lands to foreign nations. Additionally, the Senators called on the President to suspend all new coal leasing until these reforms are implemented.

Between 400 and 450 million tons of coal are produced from public lands in the United States each year, yet coal companies only pay 12.5 percent of the value of the natural resource, a royalty rate that does nothing to take into account the costs for climate change and human health associated with burning federally-owned coal.  

“We should not take two steps forward reducing carbon pollution with the Clean Power Plan only for our federal coal program to force us to take two steps back,” said Senator Markey. “It makes no sense to subsidize coal companies to mine coal from federal lands just to export it and increase quantities of it abroad, where it will be burned to worsen climate change. We need to reform a federal coal program that is selling coal at bargain basement prices to the detriment of the American taxpayer’s economic and public health and properly account for the full cost to human health and the environment of producing any publicly-owned coal.”

“Economics 101 tells us that the price of a product should reflect its costs,” said Senator Whitehouse. “When the costs of carbon pollution in the form of flood and storm damage, drought-stricken crops, and failing fisheries aren’t factored into the price of fossil fuels like coal, that’s a market failure and those costs are borne by the rest of us.  We should make sure that the social and environmental costs of carbon pollution are included in the price of coal extracted from federal lands.”

“If we are serious about saving the planet from devastating climate disruption, we must take the necessary steps to transition away from the dirtiest fossil fuel source – coal,” said Senator Blumenthal. “With the international community poised to reach an historic agreement on emission reductions – an effort led by the United States – we should not undermine our position of leadership with domestic energy policies that are incompatible with our end goal. I am pleased to join my colleagues, Senators Markey and Whitehouse, to encourage the Department of Interior to put an end to subsidizing the mining of coal on public lands and help clear the way for a cleaner, smarter energy future powered by renewable sources and technologies that become more viable by the day.”

A copy of the Senators’ letter to President can be found HERE.

The Senators also introduced new legislation to reform the law that governs the federal coal program. The bill would increase the royalty rate for coal produced from surface mines on federal land and prohibit the export of coal produced on federal land. The legislation also directs the Secretary of Interior to suspend all new coal leasing until these reforms are implemented.

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.


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