By Nancy Pfund
The Obama administration’s announcement that the federal government will temporarily halt new coal leases on federal public lands in order to review its coal-leasing program is a long overdue move to serve the interests of the environment, of our new energy economy, and of the real investors in our federal public lands — American taxpayers.
When the federal government last wrote rules for coal mining on public lands, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was on the big screen, cars had no airbags, a gallon of gas cost 97 cents, and smoking was allowed on airplanes.
As it stands now, the federal coal leasing program is hidden from public view and lacks an open, competitive process that would be required by investors in any other system and would secure a fair return for taxpayers. Moreover, some companies have seized on a loophole to get out of paying their royalties. Here’s how it works: a company sells coal to its own affiliate for much less than the coal is worth, lowering the amount of royalties it is required to pay to the federal government. Then, the affiliate company turns around and sells the coal at market value, enjoying the revenues without the burden of paying taxpayers their fair share.
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