Welcome to Wyoming. You are here in the state that provides most of the energy for this nation; you're in the state that's been devastated by recent policies and you're now considering more damage. Hundreds have been laid off at the coal mines and that's resulted in thousands being laid off on the railroad. That impact also affects the associated businesses and then spreads to the regular services and store and restaurants and costs jobs for those employees too. It's time to take your foot off the gas pedal of economic destruction. It's time to apply the brake of common sense. No economy stands by itself. This economy has an effect on our nation as a whole.
I want to start by thanking all the concerned citizens, members of the Wyoming State Legislature, and representatives of coal companies who are here today. The purpose of these public meetings is to provide the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with information that will “help shape future decisions about this public resource” – federal coal. We’re here to talk about whether Americans are receiving a fair return on federal coal. To examine how market conditions affect the coal industry. To study the environmental impacts of the federal coal program. And finally, to be reminded of all the critical ways that coal supports and provides for families and communities here in Wyoming. That’s a lot to discuss. But there is nobody better suited, nobody who knows coal better than the people here in this building today. So I thank you all for taking time from your jobs and your lives to come here today and share your stories and expertize with the BLM and one another.
I also want to thank the Department of Interior and BLM for holding a public meeting here in Casper. This is an appropriate place for a discussion of such importance. Wyoming is the largest coal producing state in the nation, producing about 40% of America’s coal, and approximately 85% of all coal on federal lands. To get a true sense of the importance of the federal coal program to this state, I think Interior and BLM need to visit additional communities and speak with all the people whose families, schools, communities and livelihood depend on coal. Along with my colleagues John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, I have asked the BLM to host additional meetings in Gillette and Rock Springs. Governor Mead has also made this request. And I ask the BLM again here today – please demonstrate that you haven’t already determined the results of this study and arrange these additional meetings. The legitimacy of this programmatic review – this multiyear effort that will cost millions and potentially disrupt many aspects of the coal industry – depends on the diligence and sincerity of this process. To truly examine this program, you simply must go to the communities it impacts the most.
So we are all here because coal supports Wyoming, and Wyoming supports coal. Wyoming supports federal coal because we know the value of this program. Last summer, many of the people here today went to a similar listening session in Gillette, where the BLM was seeking information to determine whether the American taxpayers receive a fair return on their federal coal resources. I argued then that American taxpayers are already receiving more than a fair return on their coal resources. Many others made the same argument. I stand by that sentiment – because the facts prove it.
This program, which began in 1920, has been a tremendously successful way to provide affordable energy to the nation, provide jobs in places like the Powder River Basin, where 85% of all federal coal is mined, and provide value to the government. According to the BLM, the federal coal leasing program has generated well over a billion dollars a year for the last ten years: $7.9 billion in royalties, and nearly $4 billion in rent, bonus bid payments, and other fees. Again, that’s money coal leasing earns for the federal government – a stark contrast to most federal programs. The program also produced over 5 billion tons of coal. That’s a lot of baseload. And when companies go to sell federal coal produced in the PRB, an average of 40% of the sale price already goes to taxes and fees. Again – taxpayers are already getting a fair return on this investment.
But the program’s value goes well beyond just the money and energy generated every year. The value of this program to Wyoming communities is evident. I was the mayor of Gillette in the 1970s when coal production in the PRB really took off. I carefully read the environmental impact statements prepared for some of the original mines. While I couldn’t have predicted all the awards coal mines would earn for their tremendous reclamation efforts in Wyoming, I knew that stewardship and respect for the land would govern the approach we took to mining in the state.
As mayor, I was part of the team that carefully negotiated with the coal companies, because we wanted to ensure that Gillette would be the kind of place that people would want to live and raise their kids. I know other Wyoming communities like Douglas, Wright and Newcastle opened their doors to the companies and employees who came to mine federal coal in exactly the same way. People started moving to those communities to get jobs in the coal fields – great paying jobs that in 2014 paid an average of about $84,000 annually. That’s a lot of money in Wyoming. Other jobs followed: contractors who supported the coal industry as machine operators or maintainers; rail road employees who worked to deliver coal from the mines to the utilities; and, people like Sarah, a constituent from Newcastle who wrote me a couple weeks ago. Sarah and her husband started a carpet and flooring store there and have been successfully managing it for over three decades. Now, with the downturns in the coal market, she is worried it may mean the end of a business she’s devoted her life to creating. All these folks working jobs that were created by federal coal, or are supported by coal, pay taxes to the federal government. That’s additional revenue to the federal government generated by this program.
People moved to the PRB for jobs, but they stayed because of what they found when they got there. They sent their kids to great schools – schools funded in part by the taxes, royalties and fees the coal industry pays to the state of Wyoming. In 2014, coal companies paid over $1.14 billion to Wyoming in taxes, royalties and other revenue. That’s money used for schools, roads, and community colleges across the state.
They found great neighbors here, too. Wyoming has long relied on coal, and the other minerals we are so blessed to have in great quantities. Wyoming has always known the value of these resources – they come from the same lands where people love to hunt, fish and camp. We know how precious this land is, and we treat it accordingly. Unfortunately that message has been lost on folks in Washington, and particularly on this Administration, which has continuously hit this industry with regulations meant to cripple it. But we must continue to fight that effort.
Many folks in Wyoming who produce and use coal have reached out to me. They’ve shared their stories about how this Administration’s regulations have impacted them. I’ve shared many of their stories with my fellow Senators, and I will continue to do so.
Today is a chance for the Administration to learn just how much Wyoming values coal. I hope that you will take the time today to really listen to everyone here and learn that instead of running from coal, America needs to run on coal.
My colleagues Senator Barrasso and Representative Lummis can’t be here today, so I would like to submit statements from them for the record. They have also asked me to share a few of their words.
Senator Barrasso says:
“The production of federal coal has allowed thousands of people to achieve the American Dream. Coal production has provided a level of financial security that is unavailable in most areas of the country. Any proposal to increase royalty rates on, or restrict the exports of federal coal, would put all of this at risk. Such proposals will only add to the pain that President Obama has already inflicted upon coal producing communities. Instead, BLM should identify ways it can help boost the production of federal coal. The people of Wyoming are hurting and they want to get back to work.”
Representative Lummis adds:
“America should take a global leadership role on coal, producing American energy and the means to use it cleanly and safely, not pretending that global demand for coal doesn’t exist. If we forfeit global leadership towards clean coal, we will hamstring our economy while other nations meet their coal needs elsewhere and without the same level of environmental stewardship.”
Thank you for coming to Wyoming today and for allowing me to share these messages.