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 WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (D-Ore.) and Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe siren of Baton Rouge Interior plan to use drilling funds for new projects met with skepticism The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (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.