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Utah Will See More Green if Feds Boost Coal Royalty

Heavy equipment in a coal mine. Courtesy: U.S. Department of the Interior
Heavy equipment in a coal mine. Courtesy: U.S. Department of the Interior
August 20, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah taxpayers receive a fraction of the money generated from coal mining on public lands.

But that could change as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering reforming its coal leasing system.

Robert Tohe, the Sierra Club’s organizing representative for its Dirty Fuels campaign, is a member of the Navajo Nation, where coal mining is a big part of the local economy. He says the royalty rates are antiquated and need to be updated.

"These royalty rates are so low and haven't changed in the past, and so now is the opportunity to revise this so that taxpayers get their fair share of these profits," he states.

A report from Headwaters Economics shows that between 2008 and 2012, coal companies mined nearly $2 billion worth of coal on public lands in Utah and paid $133 million in royalties. That amounts to a 7 percent royalty rate.

Tohe says the additional revenue could pay for roads, schools, and also to help cover environmental costs linked to abandoned mines.

Tohe adds the abandoned Gold King Mine spill in Colorado earlier this month, which dumped millions of gallons of toxic sludge into the Animas River, is an example of the threat posed by abandoned mines.

"In cleaning up the spill is the need for infrastructure like treatment facilities – treatment plants for water," he states.

Tohe says collecting reasonable royalties from coal mining companies would help defray the costs taxpayers are burdened with for environmental disasters such as the Gold King Mine spill.

The BLM reports that it currently manages more than 300 active coal leases covering about 475,000 acres in 10 states – and that about 40 percent of the coal produced in the U.S. comes from federal coal resources.

Deborah Courson Smith/Troy Wilde, Public News Service - UT