GOP Senator to Top Obama Official: Just Admit You Want to Kill Coal

By Michael Bastasch Published on February 23, 2016

Sen. John Barrasso is sick of the Obama administration pushing policies to hamper the coal industry under the guise of getting a fair return for taxpayers and wants it to admit it’s really trying to kill the coal industry.

The Wyoming Republican said as much to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell during a Tuesday hearing on her department’s 2017 budget request. Barrasso pressed Jewell on her recent decision to put a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands.

“We have been criticized roundly for not generating a fair return for taxpayers,” Jewell said of the coal moratorium announced in January. The administration justified the halt on coal mines by saying it’s reviewing the royalty rates the government collects from mineral leases.

Jewell said government auditors have questioned whether or not taxpayers get a “fair return” for mineral leases, and signaled Interior will likely raise royalty rates for coal. Barrasso said this is just another way to kill the coal industry.

“But doesn’t it seem to you that if the demand goes to zero that the revenue coming in will go to zero as well for the government?” Barrasso asked Jewell during the hearing.

“This is why the environmental extremists aggressively lobbied you to raise royalty rates on coal, to kill coal. They know it will kill coal production, so I think if you’re really willing to be honest with Congress you’d admit that here today.”

“There is no question that the cost coal companies have been paying for coal has been extremely low,” Jewell responded. “The cost of coal royalty is only one component” to a business decision of whether or not to mine on federal lands.

In January, Jewell announced the government would not be approving any new coal leases for the next three years while the Interior Department reviews how much the government gets from coal companies leasing federal lands.

Environmentalists have been lobbying the Obama administration for year to increase royalty rates coal miners have to pay the feds for leasing land. Activists say coal companies only pay a 12.5 percent royalty while oil and gas drillers pay 18.75 percent.

“It’s a fossil fuel giveaway that’s costing taxpayers $1.1 billion a year and it’s driving the central environmental challenge of our time,” Sharon Buccino, director of the land and wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Washington Post in January. “That’s the wrong direction for our country and we need to make a course correction.”

Coal communities are already feeling the hurt from the coal moratorium. Towns relying on coal production from the Powder River Basin — which produces 40 percent of the country’s coal — are seeing people leave and their economies shrivel up.

“All these rules and regulations just make it harder to conduct business,” Susan Doop, a Wyoming business owner, told The Associated Press. “Everything he (Obama) does to make it more costly to do business makes it harder. People are losing their jobs.”

 

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