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Expert: Changing Coal Markets Shortchange Montana

PHOTO: Two coal market experts are in Montana today to talk about how the state could miss out on millions of dollars because of coal market changes. Photo credit: David K. Anderson
PHOTO: Two coal market experts are in Montana today to talk about how the state could miss out on millions of dollars because of coal market changes. Photo credit: David K. Anderson
August 20, 2013

BILLINGS, Mont. - Nearly 5 billion tons of federal coal is in some phase of leasing or sale in the Powder River Basin, with much of it being offered to export markets. It could be a golden opportunity for Montana to beef up revenues, but according to a coal market expert speaking today in Billings, federal leasing programs are in need of updates. Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, wrote a report detailing how the program has missed out on up to $30 billion for taxpayers over the years, and half of that would have gone to states and local governments.

His report covers "the changes going on in the coal market right now, and how the federal program which manages the coal in Montana and Wyoming is essentially shortchanging Montana and Wyoming," Sanzillo declared.

Sanzillo said export income is exempted from the calculation for royalties, and he calls that a "bad idea" as more and more coal is exported. He said royalty calculations could be easily updated to reflect market conditions. He also accused the U.S. of selling coal below fair market value, and federal law requires fair market valuations.

"Enforce the laws for the benefit of the United States taxpayer," he urged. "Right now, the laws are enforced more for the benefit of the coal producers."

Sanzillo is speaking tonight at the Home on the Range, and addressing lawmakers at the Capitol in Helena at 2 p.m. Wednesday. He'll be joined by Professor Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado Law School.

Sanzillo and Squillace speak at 5:30 p.m. today, Home on the Range, 220 S. 27th, Billings. They speak with lawmakers Wednesday in Room 152 at the Capitol in Helena. Sanzillo's report is at WORC.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT