coal leases

Tue, 2014-02-04 10:28Ben Jervey
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Government Accountability Office: Taxpayers Getting Stiffed by Flawed Federal Coal Lease System

The Department of the Interior is selling publicly-owned coal for much less than it is worth, essentially allowing the coal industry to fleece U.S. taxpayers of at least $200 million. 

That is one of the main takeaways from a much-anticipated report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which confirms that the coal leasing program is fundamentally flawed and deserves an overhaul. 

The GAO report, “BLM Could Enhance Appraisal Process, More Explicitly Consider Coal Exports, and Provide More Public Information,” finds that the coal leases employed by the Bureau of Land Management within the Department of the Interior lack competition, use outdated methods to determine “fair market value,” ignore the growing trend of coal exports, and deliberately keep information from the public. 

Senator Markey, who has been calling for an overhaul to the coal lease system since 1982, and who demanded this GAO review, responded to the report's release

These noncompetitive practices are costing taxpayers in Massachusetts and across the nation, benefitting just a few coal companies who may be leasing public coal resources at bargain basement prices,” said Senator Markey. “Taxpayers are likely losing out so that coal companies can reap a windfall and export that coal overseas where it is burned, worsening climate change. This is a bad deal all around.”

A vast majority of federal coal leases take place in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. Coal companies like Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Cloud Peak Energy are all deeply dependent on this artificially cheap coal from federal leases. 

One of the report's most stunning revelations is that roughly 90-percent of the leases issued by Interior were “single bidder” auctions, won by the company that applied for the lease, and who didn't bid against anyone else. 

Of the 107 leased tracts, sales for 96 (about 90 percent) involved a single bidder, which was generally the company that submitted the lease application,” according to the report. 

Another key finding is that the BLM uses outdated and incomplete methods to determine “fair market value” of the land and the coal. This is of particular importance when there is only a single bidder, as the auction process demands that the winning bid achieve “fair market value.” According to staffers in Senator Markey's office, “for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people.”

Sun, 2013-10-13 12:21Ben Jervey
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BLM's Coal Leasing Woes Continue: New GAO Report Coming This Month

More bad news is coming for the Interior Department’s coal leasing program. This month (or later, if the federal shutdown persists), the U.S. Government Accountability Office is expected to release findings from a year-long investigation into the Bureau of Land Management’s federal coal leasing program, which oversees the auction of coal tracts on publicly owned lands.

You’re forgiven if this sounds familiar. In July, another federal body – Interior’s own Inspector General – condemned the program, releasing a highly critical report that documented a number of flaws in the BLM’s Coal Management Program.

While we’ll have to wait for the GAO’s report to get into the details, it’s safe to assume that it will include serious criticism of the program that seems to be failing on every level. The Inspector General analysis examined specific lease auctions – in one case finding that the taxpaying public was stiffed about $52 million because the BLM was ill-equipped to figure out (or uninterested in figuring) “fair market value” for the coal in a particular tract – but this GAO report will look at the program as a whole, which was plagued by scandal in the early 1980s. Reforms were mandated as a result of a GAO report at the time, but two decades later, many of the changes demanded have still yet to be implemented.

Thu, 2013-09-19 14:37Ben Jervey
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An End to Powder River Basin Coal Leases? Second Auction in Two Months Fails to Seal a Mining Deal

The Bureau of Land Management is having a hard time getting rid of our publicly owned coal. For the second time in two months, a federal coal lease auction resulted in no sales.

On Wednesday, the BLM announced that it was officially rejecting the lone bid on the Hay Creek II coal lease tract in Wyoming. The lone bidder, Kiewit Mining Properties, had offered a measly $0.21-per-ton of the estimated 167 million tons of mineable coal in the Hay Creek II tract. The BLM declared that the bid “did not meet fair market value” and rejected it.

Hey, at least we can’t accuse the BLM of literally giving away coal on public lands.

This failure to secure a suitable bid comes on the heels of last month’s stunning news that there were absolutely no bids for the auction of the Maysdorf II tract, also in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

If these two failed auctions represent a larger trend, it is that the market for coal has gotten so bad that even the BLM’s bargain bin prices are too high for industry to pay. And, yes, the BLM’s prices are cheap, as they’ve leased over 2 billion tons of coal in the Powder River Basin alone since 2011 at an average of around $1-per-ton.

That price point was criticized in a recent report by the Interior Department’s own Inspector General, which accused the BLM of failing to factor international markets and coal exports into their “fair market values,” and which calculated that for every cent that publicly-owned coal deposits are undervalued, American taxpayers get stiffed by $3 million.

Tue, 2013-08-20 14:02Ben Jervey
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Maysdorf II By the Numbers: BLM's Big Coal Giveaway Tomorrow

Update Aug 23: In a stunning development, there wasn't a single bid at the BLM auction, with Cloud Peak Energy passing up the chance to bid out of fear that it would not be profitable.   

Tomorrow, the Bureau of Land Management will sell off roughly 148 million tons of coal. The BLM is opening the sealed bids for the so-called “Maysdorf II” tract in the heart of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. The coal will likely be sold to Cloud Peak Energy, which operates the adjacent Cordero Rojo mine, one of the nation's largest strip mine operations. 

Cloud Peak Energy's Tesoro Rojo mine, soon to be expanded. Video by Greenpeace.  

According to Joe Smyth of Greenpeace, who penned a great post putting this sale (and another, even larger coal lease scheduled for next month) in the context of President Obama's recent climate announcements, the coal will be sold for roughly $1-per-ton. That represents a deep discount below market rates, which is what you'd expect from a lease auction with only one bidder.

Wed, 2013-08-14 12:12Brendan DeMelle
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Powerful Video Contrasts Obama Climate Speech with Expanded Coal Leases on Public Lands

Greenpeace US released this powerful video today, contrasting the laudable statements that President Obama made during his climate change address in June with his administration's efforts to greatly increase the amount of public lands leased for coal mining.

Watch:

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