Press release: Montanans stand up for coal leasing reforms at Daines event – June 21, 2016

June 21, 2016

Categories: Climate change, Coal, Congress, News, Northern Plains Resource Council

BILLINGS, Mont. — At a scoping hearing today to gather public testimony on review of federal coal leasing, ranchers and community members spoke up in support of reforms by the Secretary of the Department of Interior.

About a dozen members of Northern Plains Resource Council, a Montana conservation and family agriculture group, and others cited the need for greater accountability and transparency in a decades old program that has received harsh criticism in recent years for losing public value and costing taxpayers. The hearing was organized by U.S. Senator Steve Daines at Montana State University-Billings. The senator spoke briefly to the gathering via Skype from Washington, D.C.

Steve Charter, a Past Chair of Northern Plains Resource Council who ranches above an underground coal mine digging up federal coal spoke about fairness and Montana values in comments outside the hearing.

“When the market value of public coal has dropped through the floor, it’s responsible stewardship to pause, and address the long list of critical problems with the coal management program,” said Charter. “Transparency and fairness are Montana values. We need to ensure that companies keep their promises, close the loopholes they use to dodge paying their fair share, and guarantee that public lands and ranch lands that get mined get restored after mining. That’s just not happening today.”

Several attendees took issue with Daines’ narrow view of coal and his desire to keep the status quo.

“Mines in the Powder River Basin have on average 20 years of federal coal reserves,” said Charter.  “And Secretary Jewell has clearly, repeatedly stated that she will not let mines shut down while the program is in review. Emergency leasing provisions are clearly available to companies if needed.”

“It is quite frankly misleading and wrong to characterize the coal leasing review as stopping any mining or affecting any jobs in this region. This process was designed to prevent that,” said Ellen Pfister, who also ranches above an operation mining federal coal. “Instead, this is a much needed opportunity to establish more accountability and a fair return for our communities.”

The BLM is holding six public hearings in May and June, including one in Casper Wyoming, and one today in Seattle, where several Montanans from coal country are calling for reform.  The current hearings are in addition to five listening sessions held in July and August of 2015, on how to address problems with the federal coal leasing program. The BLM held a Billings listening session on Aug. 11, 2015, attended by hundreds, where more than 75 people spoke.

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