Green groups slam Interior coal leasing program

The report, released Tuesday as the first in a series of investigations, found that more than 80 percent of auctions in the past 20 years for federal mining leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin drew one bidder.

It also said the formula for calculating coal value needs an overhaul, saying the current system has cost taxpayers and states millions of dollars. It said a 1-cent-per-ton undervaluation would result in a $3 million revenue loss.

“[C]orrecting the identified weaknesses could produce significant returns to the government,” the report said.

The federal inquiries into BLM’s coal leasing program come at the behest of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the committee’s top Republican.

They said press reports have raised concerns that coal firms are short-changing royalty payments to states and the federal Treasury through the leasing program. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar agreed to set up a task force to evaluate year-worth of federal coal leasing and royalty-collection practices.

The results of the first report were “clear,” Sharon Buccino, land and wildlife director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a Wednesday statement.

“At a time when we’re struggling with federal budget cuts, we’re simultaneously giving away taxpayer dollars and the public’s valuable natural resources to the coal industry,” she said.