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.
The net result is that taxpayers are getting screwed. According to a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, BLM's non-competitive coal auctions have cost taxpayers "as much as $28.9 billion over the past 30 years." It has to do with the Powder River basin being "decertified" as a coal-producing region, which is absurd. Read Smyth's post for more on that.
The larger problem is that BLM is supposed to manage public lands in the best interests of the public, not coal companies, and it's hard to argue that accelerating climate change by sending cheap coal overseas is in America's best interests.
The Center for American Progress (CAP) has a must-read report out on this today called "Using Public Lands for the Public Good."