Mr. President, I would be remiss if I didn’t rise during this debate to address the Administration’s continuing efforts to wear down America’s coal industry. As the Senate considers reform of our nation’s energy infrastructure, the importance of coal to America’s energy portfolio simply cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, neither can this Administration’s deliberate attempts to use executive power to put the coal industry out of business.
This Administration has made no secret of its disdain for fossil fuels, and has unleashed a series of policies intended to subvert reliable, affordable, traditional energy sources such as oil and natural gas in favor of valuable, but more expensive and less reliable renewable resources. Coal is at the center of that regulatory battle, and the war on coal is not only an affront to coal producers in my home state of Wyoming, but to energy consumers across America.
Let me explain how the Administration’s war on coal affects Americans across the country with this chart. According to the Energy Information Administration, 39% of the United States’ electricity was generated by coal in 2014. The only other energy source that comes close to coal for energy production is natural gas. We need to ask ourselves: if we allow the Administration to kill the coal industry, what energy source is going to take its place and provide our constituents with the energy they need?
This issue hits close to home for me because approximately 40% of this country’s coal is produced in my home state of Wyoming. According to the National Mining Association, coal supports more 27,000 jobs in my state, which is over 9 percent of the workforce. These are good paying jobs with a combined payroll of more than $2.2 billion.
But let me be clear – this isn’t just an issue for Wyoming or other coal producing states. The Wyoming Mining Associated reported that in 2014, 30 states received coal from Wyoming mines.
This brings me to my second chart showing the distribution of Wyoming coal in 2014. If you represent Texas, Illinois, or Missouri, you should be worried about the coal industry because in 2014, each of those states received more than 10% of Wyoming’s coal. Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Michigan each got about 5% of Wyoming’s coal. Wyoming’s coal was also distributed to Nebraska, Georgia, Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, Tennessee, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, New York, and Arizona. And if I didn’t list your state – don’t think the stability and success of the coal industry doesn’t affect you… 10 other states and foreign entities also received Wyoming’s coal.
All of these numbers and stats boil down to this: most of America’s energy is powered by coal, and policies that raise the price of coal will hurt businesses and households across the country. Unfortunately, this Administration is either oblivious or unconcerned with this correlation, as evidenced by the Department Interior’s recent announcement that they will block most new federal coal leases in order to conduct a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement of coal development on federal lands.
About 40 percent of our nation’s coal is produced via the federal coal leasing program. Under that program, which is managed by the Department of Interior, private entities compete for the right to lease and mine the coal mineral estate owned by the Federal government. After a rigorous multi-year application and land use planning process, lessees are given an opportunity to mine coal on public land. In return, they pay the BLM a bonus bid, or an upfront fee for the right to mine, an annual land rental payment, and a royalty on the value of the coal after it is mined. Surface mines pay a royalty of 12.5%, and underground coal mines pay a royalty of 8%. Those revenues are shared by the federal government and the states in which the coal was mined.
This program, which began in 1920, has been a tremendously successful way to provide affordable energy to the nation, provide jobs in places like Wyoming’s 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, Mr. President, that’s money the coal leasing earns for the federal government – a stark contrast to most federal programs.
But this Administration has announced plans to halt new federal coal leases while it takes years to study the value and efficacy of this program. This Department of Interior rule has the potential to economically devastate my home state of Wyoming and send energy prices around the country through the roof.
The BLM laid the foundation for this farce last summer, when it staged a series of listening sessions. I went to the session in Gillette, Wyoming, and based on the Administration’s recent announcement, I don’t think BLM was listening very closely. If they were, they would know American taxpayers are already receiving a fair return on their coal resources.
One gentleman who told the BLM his story moved to Wyoming to be a coal miner. He spoke with pride about his job. He was worried that the job that has allowed him to raise three children will no longer exist if BLM raises royalty rates.
The owner of a small business – not directly related to the coal industry – told her story. She was worried about the ripple effect raising royalty rates would have on Campbell County and the state of Wyoming. As a mom, she also told the BLM about the direct support coal companies provide her community through social service agencies, community events, and youth activities. She didn’t want to see her kids lose that support. The benefits she referenced are a reflection of the $1.14 billion in tax and fee revenues the state of Wyoming collected from the coal industry in 2014. This is money the state critically relies upon to fund things like schools, highways and community colleges across the state.
Despite these and dozens of other similar stories, the Administration now says they need to shut down federal leases and conduct a study to determine if taxpayers are getting a fair return on the federal coal leasing program. If the BLM would have truly listened to folks in Gillette last summer, they would already know the answer to this. Instead, they have gone forward with a plan to cripple the coal industry and make energy more expensive. In the words of Wyoming’s Governor Matt Mead, “Not only will [Interior’s new rule] hurt miners and all businesses that support coal mining, it will take away all the competitive advantage coal provides to every U.S. citizen.”
Mr. President, as we debate energy policy reforms in the coming days, it isn’t just the fate of coal that should concern us. Interior’s federal coal leasing review is just the latest in a string of regulations aimed at driving fossil fuel industries out of business. The Administration has also proposed a new methane flaring rule aimed at discouraging oil and gas leasing on federal lands. This chamber has spoken clearly in rejecting rules like the Clean Power Plan and WOTUS, but the Administration continues its regulatory war on energy. As we consider energy policy reforms, we need to make sure we are protecting the resources that have and can continue to power America. That includes coal.
Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.