The Great Coal Giveaway: BLM Coal Leasing Program Fundamentally Broken

Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, released a long awaited report that confirmed what we already knew: the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) coal leasing program is broken. The Bureau is mismanaging the resources on our public lands costing taxpayers millions of dollars in lost revenue and padding the pocket books of private coal companies.

The investigation found:

  • BLM does not require competitive coal leasing although it is required by law:  In 90 percent of coal lease sales, only one coal company submitted a bid for the coal tracts. Even when there is no competition, the BLM accepts the non-competitive bids 83% of the time. They do so despite the fact that the GAO found that when initial bids are rejected, companies always bid again and at higher levels.
  • BLM has no oversight or independent review of their valuation process

  • BLM is not considering coal exports on the value of coal

  • BLM is withholding information from the public that would allow us to know exactly how much money taxpayers are losing

A Public and A Private Report?

Sen. Ed Markey emphasized the lack of transparency from the BLM. Because the Bureau is keeping some information secret exact amounts of taxpayer are difficult to calculate. According to Markey:

As part of its investigation, the GAO released two reports to me, one that is public and one that is not able to be made public. GAO kept one of these reports non-public because the Interior Department believes that the proprietary information contained in the non-public report could harm the integrity of future lease sales. I believe that increased transparency with these coal lease sales would increase the integrity of the process, not lessen it. Based on my staff’s examination of the materials, I believe that using appropriate market calculations and assumptions in some recent coal lease sales could potentially have yielded $200 million more for the American people, and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars more.

Additional Flaws In the BLM Coal Leasing Program

Montana's Powder River. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Jim Patton.
Montana’s Powder River. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Jim Patton.
In addition to the major issues that the GAO found with coal valuation, National Wildlife Federation believes that there are even more inherent flaws with the BLM’s program that need to be addressed.

The BLM is completely ignoring climate change in their coal leasing decisions and environmental impact statements. Not only are they practically giving the coal away, they refuse to account for the true cost of coal on humans and wildlife by not accounting for the devastating impacts of coal mining and burning on global climate change.

The Obama Administration has leased more than 2 billion tons of coal in the Powder River Basin and another 4.5 billion tons are being prepared for lease.

Just last week in the State of the Union speech, President Obama said,

[W]e have to act with more urgency—because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.

Bravo! But just addressing one source of greenhouse gas pollution and ignoring another is not a prudent way to address climate change. His administration can’t ignore the largest source of GHG emissions coming from our public lands, which happens to be the mining of coal.

These impacts are not being accounted for by the BLM in their coal leasing program but they need to be. We need to tell the Secretary Jewell and the BLM to implement policies that account for the carbon impacts of coal leasing, factor those costs into leasing decisions, and ensure that public land leasing decisions will result in the same carbon reductions required of other sectors of the economy, like power plants and transportation.

Speak Out Against Flawed Coal Leases

Tell the BLM to account for the true cost of coal by accounting for the carbon and climate impacts of coal leasing. Here are some suggested tweets, or you can retweet me:

.@SecretaryJewell, don’t turn your back on wildlife. End the #coalgiveway

.@SecretaryJewell Help protect wildlife in a warming world. Consider #climate in coal leasing decisions. @BLMNational