It’s been a busy week for energy in Washington D.C. While you may only be hearing about the tax debate in Congress, new bills are moving forward that relate to energy development out west. Dylan Brown, a reporter for E & E news covering coal and mining, gives background on what’s being discussed and what it means.
So, this has been a pretty busy week for energy, especially when it comes to states out west like Wyoming. Could you give a little background into what’s being talked about in DC and why it’s such a busy week?
Well, we’ve had a host of bills come up for debate in the House Natural Resources Committee. Chief among them is one from Wyoming’s Congresswoman Liz Cheney. That bill will ban all future moratoriums on federal coal leasing. The other bill that has come up is from Representative Evan Jenkins out of West Virginia. And his bill eliminates the Obama administration’s social cost of carbon calculation.
Okay, let’s start by talking about that social cost of carbon calculation. First, can you just explain what that is?
That was a feature of regulation that was added by the Obama administration in order to assess how much impact fossil fuels and the fossil fuels that are leased on public land are having on climate change. However, the Trump administration has since done away with that calculation, or at least scaled it back in every way it can. And now this bill would restrict it from being used in the future.
Right, and so that’s something that obviously affects a state like Wyoming which relies so much on minerals. Can you explain why?
Absolutely, so this is a pretty arduous process and a costly one during the permitting process. And so, in a state like Wyoming which is so dependent on revenue and royalties from these mines and for employment as well for people in Wyoming. The calculation, according to companies, is very restrictive on their ability to keep mining coal.
So what exactly are proponents of this trying to change with the social cost of carbon calculation?
Republicans are working to scale back as much as they can. The use of these calculations whether it be for carbon dioxide or methane, or all those different greenhouse gases. New U.S. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is looking at doing a rewrite and changing the models that companies and Republicans objected to.
So what’s next for this bill?
So, this bill will go to the House floor where in all likelihood it will pass. It’s had overwhelming Republican support.
So let’s jump to a conversation about the coal moratorium, you gave some context in the beginning, but you could re-iterate that? Where is this conversation coming from and why is it being talked about now?
Yeah, Congresswoman Cheney’s bill is a response to the Obama administration last year imposing a moratorium on federal coal leasing. And, in her state, that’s a big deal because Wyoming produces 40% of the nation’s coal and the vast majority of that is mined on public lands. So, it was essentially a halt on leasing on those lands. However, the Obama administration was doing this in order to make sure that taxpayers including those in Wyoming were getting a fair return from the royalties and the fees charged on this coal. And, also, to take a look at the climate impacts of leasing.
The Trump Administration lifted that moratorium, right? So, what kind of impact has that had?
Leasing is vitally important in Wyoming, however, since 2012 there hasn’t been any coal leased in the state of Wyoming. And, in fact, since the Trump administration lifted the moratorium in March, in response to calls from Congresswoman Cheney and other Republicans, you’ve actually seen declining demand, companies have been, instead of asking for new leases, giving them up. Most recently at the massive Black Thunder Mine, Arch Coal’s mine in Wyoming.
Can you explain what Congresswoman Cheney would like to do with this bill?
Her idea is to, in order for any Interior Secretary in the future to impose a similar moratorium, they got to get congressional approval. If Congress doesn’t sign off, the Interior Department wouldn’t be allowed to impose a federal leasing ban like this.
So, what do you think are the next steps for this bill?
I think it has a pretty easy road in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, you have a lot of folks on the Republican side and a few Democrats who very much opposed what they call the Obama administration’s war on coal, and so this falls right in line with that. It seems like there’s a path ahead for this bill.
Both of these bills, in addition to a conversation that happened on updating federal environmental reviews, all seem to be talking about the same thing… easing restrictions for development on federal land. Can you talk about that?
I think you’re right. This all feeds into the narrative that the Trump administration is looking for energy dominance. That’s its phrase for rebuilding American infrastructure through more oil drilling, more natural gas exploration, more mining, more coal production. And, so, all of these bills, all these efforts, are designed to boost production on U.S. federal lands.