Guest Opinion: Daines Right to Fight Interior for Montana Coal
The Department of Interior has placed a sweeping moratorium on new federal coal leases in the United States. The stated objective of the moratorium is to pause the leasing in order to conduct a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement of this program.
But there are strong suggestions that the true aim of Interior’s move is to simply place a permanent stop to all federal coal production. Even environmental groups, Interior’s usual allies, agree that this is more than a temporary pause as they laud the decision as a means to kill coal jobs.
Interior recently completed a series of public listening sessions to collect comments on their PEIS process. They held sessions in a number of coal-producing Western states, but they conspicuously avoided Montana, arguably the state most impacted by their decision. Oh, but they did find time to hold a hearing in Seattle — though Washington produces no federal coal and is not impacted by the proposal.
Interior’s snub prompted Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., to hold his own listening session for Montanans, the comments from which will be put on the record with Interior. Hundreds of people turned out for Daines’ hearing on June 21 in Billings, with opposition to Interior’s decision outweighing the supporters by about four to one.
Elimination of federal coal leasing in Montana is a really big deal. Montana holds the largest coal reserves in the country, but more than half of that coal is owned by the federal government.
That means there are thousands of jobs in Montana directly dependent on federal coal. Interior’s decision to stop coal leasing will eventually destroy all those jobs — at the mines, on the railroads, and in generating facilities.
This is going to be an enormous economic hit to the state of Montana. And though it’s centered in southeastern Montana in places like Colstrip, it’ll have a ripple effect that touches every community in the state.
That revenue is in addition to all the other taxes paid by coal companies on federal production — taxes on property, business equipment, payroll, and income. Simply put, our state budget is very dependent on coal production —especially production of federal coal — and undermining that industry will make it more difficult to fund education, law enforcement, infrastructure, and other core functions of government.
Production of tribally-owned coal is also put in jeopardy by Interior’s decision. Already, the Crow have laid off hundreds of workers due to the political attacks that have undermined the industry over the last two years.
Interior has claimed that the leasing moratorium is necessary so they can determine if coal companies are paying their “fair share” for the federal coal they produce. That excuse rings hollow. Recent data indicate that coal producers pay five times as much in federal royalty payments as they make in profit from mining that coal.
The real objective of Interior’s leasing moratorium is fairly obvious: put a stop to federal coal mining. When taken together with the plethora of other federal regulations aimed at killing coal, the picture becomes clear. The biggest threat to Montana coal is not soft markets — it’s entirely political.
We need our political leaders to fight back. Daines deserves a big thank you from all Montanans for protecting their interests in this matter. It’s a fight we can’t afford to lose.
See the article here.
- On June 28, 2016