Coal is good for taxpayers and everyone who pays an electric bill

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson announced a “War on Poverty,” some Democrats in Washington and environmental extremists are more focused on winning the “War on Coal.” These two battles coincide because without the good jobs and affordable energy coal provides, more Americans would have a lower standard of living. If environmental extremists win the war on coal, we will certainly lose the war on poverty. 

Just recently, some of our anti-coal colleagues tried to strike another blow against coal with a report on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) federal coal leasing program.  Coal opponents asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to find something wrong with the program. 

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To their disappointment, the report actually highlights how vital coal from these leases is as part of our energy supply and economy.  The GAO report found that more than 40 percent of the nation’s coal production in 2012 came from federal leases generating roughly $1 billion annually for the Treasury.  Not surprisingly, these benefits of coal are lost on those who want to make sure the federal government gets $0 from coal leases.  Remember, these are the same folks who want the program and the coal industry shut down completely, including the elimination of coal exports.  Now these same people are saying the coal is worth more because of the overseas market and taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth.  The only consistency in their agenda is trying to shut down coal. 

The GAO made recommendations for improving the coal leasing program, none of which require any significant changes, but coal opponents are nonetheless trying to manipulate the report to advance their anti-coal agenda. In reality, the BLM determines what a fair market price is and if they don’t get it, they don’t lease the land until they do. Under the program, the BLM is supposed to set a minimum bid that the energy companies don’t know and as a result there is a far greater chance that companies have overpaid on the leases.

The GAO recommended that the BLM make the program more transparent and improve the way it gathers information used for estimating fair market value.  That sounds sensible enough.  We don’t have a problem with that.  Most, if not all government programs could use a little improvement, but the GAO report was in no way the wholesale condemnation of coal that those combatting coal use claimed.

Take for instance another part of the report that anti-coal forces like to cherry pick.  The report notes there have been 96 coal tracts that received one bidder since 1990.  The anti-coal establishment screams “anti-competitive”, but the report goes on to say the reason is tied to the significant capital investment and time required to start a new mine, not a lack of competition for bids.  It’s a lot easier for a company to mine land next to where it already has operations than for a new company to come in and start from scratch. In that sense, it’s understandable that some coal tracts only receive one bidder.

There is a well-funded, organized movement complete with a retinue of politicians who don’t know and don’t care what coal means to the country in terms of jobs and the economic benefits of plentiful and affordable energy.  They write and commission reports and see what they want to see.  But there are others out there that include the thousands of miners and their families in Wyoming, Montana, Kentucky, West Virginia and other parts of the country. 

These folks depend on coal to put food on the table and they expect their politicians to represent them and tell what they know- that coal as an energy source is vital to those who produce it and those who consume it.  What they know is that coal is responsible for providing about 40 percent of this nation’s electricity and that without it, everyone would have to fork out more money to pay their power bill not to mention the added costs it takes to produce the other goods and services that every consumer uses. On top of that we simply don’t have the current capacity to replace about 40 percent of produced energy even if money grew on trees.  This call to kill coal is not justified by this report.  It’s irresponsible and political, not practical.  

Poverty will not help the environment, it will hurt it. But that’s exactly where these kinds of anti-energy misinformation campaigns lead.  We need to be taking advantage of the clean burning coal we produce, look at how to increase productive and clean use of coal, and research other forms of energy.  We all want a clean environment and cheaper energy.  It would be easier to find both through cooperation rather than absolute condemnation of coal in every circumstance.

Enzi is Wyoming’s senior senator, serving since 1997. He sits on the Budget; the Finance; the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. Barrasso is Wyoming’s junior senator, serving since 2007. He sits on the Energy and Natural Resources; the Environment and Public Works; the Foreign Relations; and the Indian Affairs committees. Lummis has represented Wyoming’s at-large congressional district since 2009. She sits on the Natural Resources; the Oversight and Government Reform; and the Science, Space, and Technology committees.