As the new Secretary of the Interior, Secretary Sally Jewel has an important opportunity to end the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) giveaways to the coal industry, which are unlocking enormous amounts of carbon pollution, wasting taxpayer dollars, and subsidizing the coal industry’s efforts to export publicly-owned coal to Asia.
A federal coal leasing program run by DOI’s Bureau of Land Management has resulted in almost $30 billion in government handouts to the coal industry. The giveaway happens through noncompetitive “auctions” where the Department sells the rights to publicly-owned coal for a fraction of what it’s worth.
And there’s almost four billion more tons of this coal, primarily in the Powder River Basin, that DOI could give away in the coming years. Though it’s not a done deal. With newly confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell taking over the Department, there’s hope.
Secretary Jewell has the power to put an end to these coal industry handouts for good. But she’s going to have to hear from the public first. Together we can make a strong impression during her first day on the job.
What’s worse is that the publicly-owned coal that DOI is giving away isn’t even destined for use in the United States.
With demand falling dramatically in this country, coal companies like Peabody are hoping to boost profits by exporting the dirty coal overseas and selling it in places like China – where it will be burned and continue to add global warming pollution to the atmosphere.
It’s hard to see how this is in the nation’s best interest. Which is why it’s no surprise that DOI is under three separate investigations for the program.
Secretary Jewell should mark her DOI entrance with a moratorium on new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin and reforms that ensure taxpayers aren’t subsidizing coal exports and climate change.
The DOI’s coal leasing program is undermining the Obama administration’s commitment to reduce global warming pollution. The administration can’t have it both ways. It’s impossible to fight climate change while simultaneously doubling down on the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuels on the planet.
The truth is that if this coal is dug up and burned, we can’t save the climate. Like drilling for oil in the Arctic or the Keystone XL Pipeline, new fossil fuel projects threaten to send our climate past a point of no return.