I hope everyone read Joe Smyth’s post about the upcoming “auction” of 721 million tons of publicly owned Powder River Basin (PRB) coal. “Auction” goes in scare quotes because there’s only one bidder: Peabody Coal, which can keep bidding at its leisure until it clears the ridiculously low minimum price established by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Peabody, of course, wants to export the coal.

If a one-bidder auction strikes you as shady, you’re not alone. As Juliet Eilperin reports in the Washington Post today, the practice “is being reviewed by the Interior Department’s inspector general and also will be the subject of an audit by the Government Accountability Office.”

There’s a reason only one or two bidders participate in these auctions: Only four big companies are operating in the PRB. They each have their own areas of land. When an adjoining lease opens up, one of them already has the equipment and infrastructure in place, so it will always be able to underbid a company bringing gear in from outside. So nobody bothers to bid against it. Cozy.