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The Social Side of Coal Politics
Coal mine shaft.

A group of environmental advocates are urging the U.S. Department of Interior to make major reforms in its coal mine leasing process. The per acre rental rate and the royalty for federal coal mining have gone unchanged for several decades.

Lindsay Beebe of the Sierra Club said that the artificially low prices give the impression that the costs of coal are small. She said that moving away from coal as a major energy source has to take into account the workers and their families that would be affected.

“Utah and many states across the country are highly dependent on coal as an energy source. It does provide many jobs here in our state. That’s something that we have to acknowledge and plan for,” she said. “We have an opportunity with this assessment to really look at the holistic impacts of coal and plan for the future in a smart way that provides for a just transition toward other energy sources and really takes care of the workers and families that are so dependent on this resource.”

Federal mine leasing requires the Bureau of Land Management to consult with local governments and to have public input. Lease applications are also vetted to insure that environmental regulations are being followed. Beebe said that providing the public with good information is essential to giving them a say in the process.

“As far as I know they do follow the full process in terms of soliciting public input but there’s also the inherent complication that these leases a very complicated,” she said. “The average lay person might not feel equipped to really dive in and make a full public comment. Making sure that we’re engaging the local communities but also the broader community that has a stake in the development of those public lands for the benefit of the public good.”

Royalties from federal coal leases are split evenly between the federal government and the state where the mining takes place.