Today the Obama Administration took a welcome step concerning coal consumption. The news arrived to me saying they’d frozen new Coal leases on federal lands. While that’s true, what’s actually happened is potentially better, depending on who the next President is. Namely, the Interior Department has launched a review of the Federal Coal Program, and it’s the review which caused them to cancel all coal leasing activity on federal land. Secondly, the Interior Department instituted a few useful reforms, such as to create a database of carbon emissions resulting from fossil fuels developed on federal land.
The federal coal program review (see press release) will examine concerns about the federal coal program raised by the Government Accountability Office, the Interior Department’s Inspector General, Members of Congress and the public. The review will produce a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), and will look at issues such as
- 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.
These are important questions. Almost certainly the royalty rate is very low, and of course there is the issue of Externalities. Namely, the cost of coal or gasoline or any other fossil fuel does not incorporate the cost of the effects of consuming those fuels. The cost of fossil fuels does not pay for things like climate change, other environmental ills, or the health problems many face.
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).
We have to consider the timing of conducting the review. According to a post on TheHill.com, the review will take three years to finish. Therefore it is up to the next President, and his/her Interior Department Secretary, to finish that review.
What will ultimately come out of this will be greatly influenced by whoever that President is. I’m sure any of the Republicans currently running for President will do their most to eliminate this review, or to ignore its results.
The goals of the review are laudable, especially as they’re meant to support climate change goals. Therefore to get the result which will be to our benefit, we must ensure the next President supports the same goals.
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