Energy: Congress may investigate mining royalties

Powder River Basin map

Wyoming ranchers feeling short-changed on coal mining operations in Powder River Basin

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with polluting the water and air, fossil fuel companies may also be short-changing U.S. taxpayers on the royalties they’re supposed to pay for the resources extracted from public lands.

According to a report from an energy think tank, the federal treasury may have missed out on as much as $29 billion over the past 30 years because of the way enerfy companies and federal land managers account for those royalties, and another recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that the federal government’s accounting system does not “provide reasonable assurance that oil and gas are accurately measured.”

Now, Congress wants to investigate, and farmers and ranchers in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming — one of the country’s biggest coal-producing areas — say it’s about time.

“Montanans have a lot of questions about the impacts of mining our coal, shipping it to West Coast ports, and sending it to customers in Asia,” said Walter Archer, a rancher from Olive, Mont., and Chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council. “But there is no question that taxpayers deserve a full and fair royalty payment when their coal is mined. If the only way coal companies can make money is to get this coal on the cheap from taxpayers, and send it overseas, that is a very bad deal all the way around.”

A letter to the Department of the Interior from U.S. Senate Energy Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) cites recent Reuters reports investigating how Arch Coal Inc., Peabody Energy, and Cloud Peak Energy account for royalties on federal coal from the Powder River Basin coal sold to Asian markets.

“Neighbors to Wyoming coal mines, like my family, have sacrificed a lot for Wyoming to be the nation’s leader in coal production.” said L.J. Turner, cattle and sheep rancher, from Wright, Wyo., and member of  the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “The least we deserve is to know that we’re not getting short-changed by the coal companies. We hope the Department of the Interior acts in the public interest and seriously considers the Senators’ concerns.”

In April, U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.) asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the federal coal leasing program. The last review of the program occurred in 1984. The GAO is conducting that review, and the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General is also investigating the federal coal leasing program.

Last month, a GAO report raised concerns about management of royalty revenue from oil, gas, coal, and hard-rock minerals from federal lands.


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