by Tom Kenworthy Posted on July 29, 2014 at 2:14 pm
Even as giant U.S. coal companies bemoan the Obama Administration’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, a federal agency’s long history of protecting industry interests could hand coal companies a victory and threaten an otherwise impressive climate record.
The coal industry has loudly and publicly decried the administration’s Clean Power Plan, saying it would “place the U.S. economy at serious risk,” while quietly working to convince the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to sell off billions of tons of coal owned by the American public at below-market rates.
If the coal industry succeeds, and if the Obama administration doesn’t step in to curtail major new coal lease sales proposed by the BLM in a region of Wyoming and Montana known as the Powder River Basin, those sales could lock in decades of massive carbon dioxide releases. Combustion of that coal — if not here in the U.S. then quite likely abroad in places like China — will undermine White House climate goals and achievements.
“The true cost of Powder River Basin coal is much more than the billions of dollars in lost revenue that the federal government fails to collect on behalf of U.S. taxpayers; that is only half the story,” the CAP report states. “The cost to society for mining and burning Powder River Basin coal — its social cost — is the other half.”
The report found that even using BLM’s lower estimate of 388 million tons of Powder River Basin coal sold in 2012, “the total net social loss that year was more than $19 billion dollars. These losses will continue to reach into the hundreds of billions of dollars if Powder River Basin coal remains so highly undervalued and production continues at similar levels to today.”