The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change today released several recommendations for the Department of Interior to support President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, including a call to reform the federal coal leasing program. The white paper states:

BLM should also revisit policies that subsidize fossil fuel development on federal land by increasing royalty rates for federal coal leases, reviewing its procedures for determining “fair market value” during its coal leasing process, and reforming its leasing practices in the Powder River Basin

The Department of Interior’s coal leasing program (administered by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM) has come under increased scrutiny and calls for reform because of its role in subsidizing the extraction of publicly owned coal and unlocking huge quantities of carbon pollution. How skewed is the federal coal leasing program for the benefit of coal mining companies like Peabody and Arch Coal? Well, one indication is that they apparently can’t even think of how to make it any easier to get access to our coal. From Bloomberg BNA’s detailed article today, Obama Policy: Control Greenhouse Gases At Home, Enable Export of Fossil Fuels:

Coal Industry Supports Regulatory Approach

The coal industry supports the Obama administration’s NEPA process in the Powder River Basin. Peabody Energy Vice President Beth Sutton provided an e-mailed reply Dec. 5 to a Bloomberg BNA request for an interview. “We believe the current regulatory approach to surface mine permits is appropriate and protects the environment.”

In a Dec. 4 telephone interview, National Mining Association General Counsel Katie Sweeney said she has “not heard suggestions for improvement” of BLM oversight of the coal resource from NMA’s membership.

When Peabody is praising your regulatory oversight, you’re doing it wrong.

In a press release announcing the task force recommendations, Senator Ed Markey said, “Everyone has a role to play in fighting climate change, but with the Interior Department’s vast land and ocean resources, they can be an outsized actor in cutting the pollution that is changing our planet.”

Image from Center for American Progress
Image from Center for American Progress

Unfortunately, largely because of the Department of Interior’s coal giveaways, those public resources are contributing 4.5 times more carbon emissions than they can sequester, according to a recent report from the Center for American Progress, which notes that “public lands have become one of the largest sources of U.S. carbon emissions as a result of fossil fuel extraction.”

The CAP report found that fossil fuels extracted in 2010 from public lands in the continental U.S. amounted to more than a billion metric tons of carbon pollution (1,153.7 MMTCO2e). Looking in more detail at the source of those figures, a report commissioned by the Wilderness Society Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Fossil Energy Extracted  from Federal Lands and Waters, shows that the vast majority – 77% – of that carbon pollution is from the extraction of publicly owned coal (888.9 MMTCO2e). That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of 185 million cars.

Until there’s an end to the subsidized extraction of our coal, the Department of Interior’s coal leasing program will continue to undermine President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Strip mining coal in the powder river basin is a major source of carbon pollution
Strip mining coal in the Powder River Basin is a major source of carbon pollution