The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Bipartisan Senators Call for Investigation of Taxpayer Losses from Coal Exports
by Jessica Goad
A unit train waits to transfer the coal onto conveyors belts to be loaded on ships headed to Asia or into storage piles at this export terminal in British Columbia. Photo by Paul K. Anderson, www.paulkanderson.com
Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have called on Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to investigate if U.S. taxpayers are getting shortchanged by companies mining coal from public lands and exporting the resource to other countries.
That’s according to a report from Reuters today.
Senator Wyden is Chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Senator Murkowski is the ranking member.
Wyden and Murkowski said they were concerned that coal companies are not paying high enough royalties on coal mined on public lands. According to another Reuters article in December, companies are valuing coal at lower domestic prices rather than higher international prices so they “can dodge the larger royalty payout when mining federal land.”
If any violations of the law have occurred, companies should be required to cure any gap in royalty payments and, if misconduct has occurred, civil penalties should be levied,” reads Wyden and Murkowsi’s letter.
Approximately 43 percent of the coal produced in the U.S. comes from public lands managed by the government and owned by all Americans. Public lands are home to some of the richest coal deposits in the nation, mostly located in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin.
However, as the use of coal for electricity continues to decrease, coal companies have been eying fast-growing Asian markets as a potential destination for U.S. coal. In 2011, U.S. coal exports were the highest they have been since 1991, and companies like Arch Coal have predicted that they could be even higher over the next few years.
Shorting royalties isn’t the only way that taxpayers may be losing out. Some have called out the government for carrying out policies on public lands that keep coal cheap, and therefore shortchange American taxpayers.
For example, a report published by financial analyst Tom Sanzillo in July found that the Interior Department has offered coal leases non-competitively in the Powder River Basin rather than putting them up for auction, thus costing taxpayers as much as $29 billion over the last three decades.
Coal companies can also get leases on public lands extremely cheaply. The highest bid ever received on a federal coal lease in the Powder River Basin was $1.10 per short ton, despite the fact that the coal can be sold for approximately $10 per short ton.
In a separate piece on coal exports, Reuters noted that these government policies raise “questions about whether taxpayers are essentially helping Asian economies save on energy costs.”
Coal exports are another emerging environmental fight. Currently, five coal export terminals are proposed in Oregon and Washington—projects that have been strongly opposed by everyone from environmentalists to farmers and ranchers to local officials.
The Army Corps of Engineers, along with state and local agencies, recently started holding preliminary hearings on how to assess the construction of the terminals and determine whether or not there should be a cumulative analysis on the new infrastructure built across the West to accommodate the vastly increased amounts of coal.
Wyden and Murkowski aren’t the only lawmakers paying attention to the growing issues around coal exports. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the ranking member on the House Committee on Natural Resources, asked the Government Accountability Office in April to review the government’s program and policies for overseeing coal mined on public lands.
Visit EcoWatch’s COAL EXPORTS page for more related news on this topic.
Click here to sign stop coal exports.
Jessica is the manager of research and outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images
By Jennifer Molidor
One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.
"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.
Company Safety Data Sheets on New Chemicals Frequently Lack the Worker Protections EPA Claims They Include
By Richard Denison
Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).
By Grant Smith
From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.
By Brett Walton
When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.
In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.
This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.
If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.
"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
- Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change ›
- How working less could solve all our problems. Really. | ›
- Needed: A shorter work week – People's World ›