The war on warm houses, cold beer and bright lights

Posted March 18, 2016

The following was posted on Senator Mike Enzi’s Medium page, and re-posted here.

 

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By Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming)

It’s nearly impossible to imagine our lives without the convenience of flipping a switch to turn on a light, the warmth provided by turning the thermostat up in winter, or being able to safely and easily preserve food in a refrigerator. Most people may not stop to think where the electricity for their smart phones, laptops, or televisions come from, but they will wonder where it went if the federal government’s attack on coal succeeds in choking off America’s most important and most abundant power source.

We need to make sure that we don’t understate the importance of coal in providing electricity to American households. Unfortunately, we also can’t understate this Administration’s deliberate attempts to use executive power to put the coal industry out of business.

America relies on coal to provide the largest share of our energy at almost 40 percent. But President Obama and his Administration have unleashed a slew of policies intended to subvert reliable, affordable, traditional energy sources in the hopes that they can stretch renewable energy resources to fill the gap.

Earlier this year the Administration announced regulations to halt new federal coal leases, followed closely by proposing a new methane flaring rule aimed at discouraging oil and gas leasing on federal lands. These Department of Interior rules could slash tens of thousands of jobs and send electricity prices through the roof.

This attack hits close to home for me because my home state of Wyoming produces approximately 40 percent of this country’s coal. According to the National Mining Association, coal supports more than 9 percent of jobs in my state. These are good paying jobs.

But this isn’t just an issue for Wyoming or other coal producing states. If you live in Texas, Illinois, or Missouri, you should be worried about the coal industry because in 2013, each of those states received more than 10 percent of Wyoming’s coal. Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, and Michigan each got about 5 percent of Wyoming’s coal. Wyoming’s coal went to Oklahoma, Nebraska, Georgia, Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, Tennessee, Minnesota, Arizona and many others. And if I didn’t list your state, New York, California, etc. — don’t think the stability and success of the coal industry doesn’t affect you. All of these numbers and stats boil down to this: the largest share of America’s energy is powered by coal, and policies that raise the price of coal will hurt businesses and households across the country. This Administration seems oblivious to this.

Let’s call this what it is. It’s an economic assault on Americans who work in an industry that supplies the largest share of our electricity. The Administration touts these new proposals as good government, but they are actually about the president’s vendetta against America’s most efficient and reliable sources of energy.

The federal coal leasing program began in 1920, allowing private entities to compete for the right to lease and mine the coal mineral estate owned by the federal government. Only after a rigorous multi-year application and land use planning process are lessees given an opportunity to mine coal on public land. In return, they pay the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) a bonus bid, or an upfront fee for the right to operate, an additional annual land rental payment, and then also a royalty on the value of the coal after it is mined. According to the BLM, the federal coal leasing program has generated well over a billion dollars a year for the last ten years. That’s money the coal leasing earns for the federal government — a stark contrast to most federal programs.

The BLM laid the foundation for these latest regulations when it staged a series of listening sessions across the country on this issue, including in my hometown of Gillette, Wyoming. I went to the listening session and I don’t think the BLM heard the message. That message was, American taxpayers are already receiving a fair return on their coal resources, American workers rely on this industry for their livelihood, and communities around the country rely on the coal industry.

One gentleman told the BLM he moved to Wyoming to be a coal miner. He spoke with pride about his job. He was worried that the job that has allowed him to raise three children will no longer exist if BLM raises royalty rates.

The owner of a small business and mother said she was worried about the ripple effect raising royalty rates would have on the community. She told the BLM about the direct support coal companies provide her community through social service agencies, community events, and youth activities. She didn’t want to see her kids lose that support.

The president’s bureaucracy hasn’t listened and the president seems to have little regard for how his policies will cost jobs or cause electricity prices to skyrocket. If the president really was interested in strengthening our energy sector he would look to help expand access for production on public lands, not restrict it. We need to make sure we are fully developing the best energy opportunities that have powered America’s homes and communities and will continue to power America’s economy.