Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was asked about her plans to establish a moratorium on federal coal leasing yesterday, during her first visit to the Pacific Northwest, OPB reports:
An activist from the group Columbia Riverkeeper used the chance to ask Jewell about proposed coal export terminals. The activist wanted to know if the Department of Interior will stop granting leases while it investigates whether companies have avoided paying royalties on export sales of coal mined on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Jewell didn’t answer the question directly.
“Our charter within BLM is multiple use on those lands, and part of that is ensuring we get a fair return for the American people. So that’s very important to us,” she said.
That activist isn’t the only one wondering – over 5,000 Oregonians are among the 135,000 people that have called on Secretary Jewell to put a halt to the Interior Department’s flawed program that leases taxpayer owned coal. Secretary Jewell received a letter calling for a moratorium and comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program on her first day on the job from environmental, public health, and community groups, including several groups concerned about coal export proposals in the Pacific Northwest. The Department of the Interior leased over 2.1 billion tons of coal in the Powder River Basin during 2011 and 2012, while ignoring the climate impacts of unlocking nearly 3.5 billion metric tons of carbon pollution when this coal is burned.
Oregon’s top officials have raised concerns as well. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, called for a review of the federal coal leasing program, following a Reuters investigation that found coal companies like Peabody, Arch, and Cloud Peak may be cheating taxpayers of royalty payments. That review is now underway by the Interior Department’s Inspector General, and the Government Accountability Office is also conducting an investigation.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has made clear that he understands the critical role of the Interior Department in the coal industry’s export plans. Governor Kitzhaber’s April 25, 2012 letter to the Army Corp of Engineers and Interior Department calling for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement of coal export proposals, states: “The EIS must be prepared before regulatory or additional coal leasing decisions are made.”
Secretary Jewell will attend another event in Portland today focused on energy and infrastructure projects – alongside Governor Kitzhaber.