Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Groups Call for End of Federal Coal Leasing Program

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Advocates say coal-leasing reform must take climate change into account. (Sierra Club)
Advocates say coal-leasing reform must take climate change into account. (Sierra Club)
PITTSBURGH -- Community leaders, environmentalists and public health advocates rallied in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, calling on the U.S. Department of Interior to reform the federal coal-leasing program. During a public listening session, they said the program is broken, outdated and ignores the threat of climate change.

Randy Francisco, a senior organizing representative for the Sierra club, said these sessions were the first opportunity the public has had to weigh in on the climate impact of coal mined on public lands.

"This review should acknowledge scientific consensus that the vast majority of fossil fuels must remain in the ground in order to avoid the worst effects of climate disruption," he said.

About 400 million tons of coal are mined on public lands every year, representing 40 percent of all coal burned in the United States. Francisco said air and water pollution from coal can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory illness and even cancer. He said the industry pays royalties for coal from public land that are far less than what the oil and gas industry pays.

"Federal coal royalties rates (are) currently 8 percent for underground coal (and) 12.5 (percent) for surface-mined coal," he said. "They have not changed in 30 years and they are far below the 18.5 percent royalty rate on offshore oil and gas."

Francisco said the federal coal-leasing program is noncompetitive, fails to meet mining reclamation standards and is self-insured against environmental damage by companies now in bankruptcy. He said Tuesday's hearing was the last of six the Interior Department has held across the country as it considers reforms to the coal-leasing program.

"It's basically a review of their whole program," he said, "and then they'll hopefully make positive changes that will help mitigate climate change, protect those public lands and keep that coal in the ground."

According to the Sierra Club, reforms must consider climate and health impacts of fossil-fuel extraction, and move toward clean, renewable energy.

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