House panel votes to weaken Obama’s coal moratorium

House panel votes to weaken Obama’s coal moratorium

A House committee on Thursday voted to exempt some leases from the White House's moratorium on leasing federal land for coal mining.

The Natural Resources Committee voted 22-13 to pass the bill from Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to permit leases to go forward if a company had submitted an application for the mine before the moratorium took effect earlier this year.

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The legislation also sets a three-year time limit on the Interior Department’s ongoing review of its coal leasing program and establishes an outside advisory committee that includes state, tribal and industry representatives to study coal, oil and natural gas lease policy on federal land.

Zinke’s bill is aimed at Interior’s decision in January to stop considering new coal leases while it completes a top-to-bottom review of the program.

The Obama administration is considering raising royalty rates to better reflect the coal market and the climate change impact from the coal that is sold.

“One should recognize that, over the course of this administration, 400 coal mines shut down, with a loss of 83,000 jobs,” Zinke said at the committee meeting Thursday. “Those are real American families.”

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Overnight Energy: Panel gives chairman power to subpoena Interior | House passes bill to protect wilderness | House Republicans propose carbon capture bill | Ocasio-Cortez introduces bill to ban fracking House Natural Resources gives Grijalva power to subpoena Interior MORE (R-Utah) said the coal leasing moratorium hurts numerous parties, including the coal industry and low-income electricity customers.

“This is not just about taxpayer fairness. Whether intended or not, it has certain implications. And those implications are a negative impact on the coal industry,” he said.

“If you raise the royalty rates, it will result in more expensive electricity. More expensive electricity handcuffs our economy, it prevents our growth, and it is disproportionately tough on people who are poor.”

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would require all new leases allowed during the study period to be charged a royalty rate of 18.75 percent, the same as the rate for offshore oil and natural gas drilling. Coal companies currently pay 12.5 percent royalties.

“We shouldn’t be issuing leases with an artificially low price,” Lowenthal said. “There are currently 20 years of federal coal under lease, so there’s no need to issue new leases while the leasing review is ongoing, particularly when those new leases would be issued under the old system that shortchanges taxpayers.”

Lowenthal’s amendment failed by the same 22-13 vote that passed the underlying bill.