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Feds Consider Updating State Coal Compensation

The Department of the Interior is taking input on coal management program. Credit: Greg Goebel/Wikimedia Commons.
The Department of the Interior is taking input on coal management program. Credit: Greg Goebel/Wikimedia Commons.
August 18, 2015

DENVER – For the first time in more than 30 years, the U.S. Department of the Interior is reviewing how it manages publicly-owned coal reserves. The agency oversees 75 percent of all coal mined in Colorado, and is holding a hearing today in Denver about its coal program.

Kathy White, deputy director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, says it's critical the state get its fair share of royalties and other taxes paid by companies that extract coal from public lands.

"We want to be sure the royalties that are being paid to the federal government, and coming back to Colorado, is sufficient to do all of the reclamation, environmental protection and community benefit that they are intended to do," she says.

White cites a report from Headwaters Economics that shows rate reductions granted by the Interior Department between 1990 and 2013 meant lost royalties of more than $45 million for the state. She says that money could have been used to safely restore closed mines, build water treatment plants and fund public schools.

According to White, 90 percent of the coal managed by the Interior Department in Colorado comes from underground mines, where the environmental effects can be far-reaching. In the wake of the toxic Gold King mine spill earlier this month, White adds the agency's coal program needs to be transparent and accountable to the public.

"And making sure that we're able to mitigate the impacts of this resource extraction," she says. "These are mostly underground mines, and with underground mines there are a lot of issues, as we've seen with the stuff happening in southern Colorado."

The Interior Department oversees almost one trillion tons of publicly-owned coal reserves. In 2014, more than 40 percent of all coal produced in the U.S. came from public lands.

Eric Galatas/Tommy Hough, Public News Service - CO