Public lands and private coal

To everything, a beginning. The development of coal-export facilities, such as the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, has its beginning in the insular world of single-bid coal leases.

According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2012 42 percent of the 1 billion-plus tons of coal produced in the Unites States were mined from coal tracts leased from the Bureau of Land Management’s federal coal-leasing program, largely in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. A GAO report released Tuesday underscores the disjointed methodology of BLM bureaucrats when determining the fair market value of coal from the leased tracts.

There is an outrage factor because low-balling the fair market value rips off the American taxpayer, with lease revenue generated from royalties collected when the coal is sold.

The report also reveals a bureaucratic culture that, intentional or not, telegraphs a cozy public-private MO that positions Big Coal ahead of the public interest.

“GAO found that BLM did not consistently document the rationale for accepting bids that were initially below the fair market value, pre-sale estimate,” the report reads. “Furthermore, some state offices were not following guidance for review of appraisal reports, and no independent review of these reports was taking place.” BLM doesn’t tap a resource available to it for third-party reviews, namely the Office of Valuation Services, which, like the BLM, falls under the U.S. Department of Interior.

Last week Oregon Rep. Pete DeFazio and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey issued a joint statement. “Given the lack of market competition in coal leases, if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, 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,” they write.

Over time, the loss to taxpayers has been in the $30 billion range.

Markey displays sober judgment, calling for a temporary suspension of the federal coal-leasing program. The GAO is more conservative in its recommendations, insisting on more than one approach when appraising lease values as well as ensuring greater transparency by requiring the program to publish information on its website about past lease sales.

In a few years, the long narrative that begins with single-bid coal leases on public lands, bolstered by East Asia’s big appetite for North American coal (and a corresponding domestic drop in demand), could spell 24 coal trains a day at a railroad crossing near you.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

FILE - In this May 17, 2018, file photo attorneys walk up the steps of the Washington Supreme Court building, the Temple of Justice, in Olympia, Wash. The court on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, unanimously upheld the Washington's tax on big banks aimed at providing essential services and improving the state's regressive tax system. The 1.2% business and occupation surtax, a tax added on top of other taxes — was passed by the Legislature in 2019. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Editorial: Ruling may not be last word on state redistricting

The state Supreme Court accepted the redistricting panel’s work, but limited the scope of its ruling.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, Dec. 7

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

A Swift bus and an Everett Transit bus travel north on Rucker Avenue on Saturday in Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Editorial: Help pick a route for Everett’s transit future

A joint study will gather information on whether to combine Everett Transit and Community Transit.

Robert J. Sutherland (Washington State House Republicans)
Editorial: State House covid rules won’t exclude GOP lawmakers

A requirement for vaccination only means those unvaccinated will have to attend sessions remotely.

An artist's rendering shows features planned for the first floor of an expansion of the Imagine Children's Museum. The area will include a representation of the old bicycle tree in Snohomish and an outdoorsy Camp Imagine. (Imagine Children's Museum)
Editorial: GivingTuesday offers chance to build better future

Organizations, such as Imagine Children’s Museum, need our support as we look past the pandemic.

Harrop: Hold parents of school shooters responsible

Leaving firearms unsecured around mentally disturbed youths only invites the next massacre.

Comment: Bob Dole was partisan, but he knew how to govern

The Republican senator fought Democratic legislation but would also work diligently across the aisle.

Comment: Remembering Pearl Harbor often forgets Pacific’s past

The Dec. 7 attack followed years of colonialism by Japan and the U.S. in Hawai’i and the Philippines.

Comment: Fifth Amendment isn’t a blanket stay-out-of-jail card

Congress’ Jan. 6 committee is entitled to probe the validity of a Trump lawyer’s latest refusal to testify.

Most Read