DENVER ― Thursday, Aug. 20, nearly one hundred New Mexicans representing over a dozen organizations gathered at a session hosted by the Bureau of Land Management to testify in support of reforming the outdated federal coal lease program.
“Coal mining and coal fired power plants have had devastating impacts on the Navajo Nation for over 50 years,” said Colleen Cooley, energy outreach coordinator of Dinè Care. “Despite big promises from polluters about the benefits of coal mining and coal energy, many on the Navajo Nation are still at poverty level living conditions, without running water and electricity in their homes. We have suffered the burden of climate injustices for far too long; it’s time to transition to cleaner energy now!”
“Coal mining has taken a terrible toll in the Four Corners region, undermining the health of the Navajo people, saddling the region with dangerous pollution, and fueling global warming,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Director of WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time for Interior to honestly confront the true costs of coal, create a more sustainable energy economy starting, and protect our climate. That means it’s time to start keeping our coal in the ground.”
“The reality is that selling rights to mine coal continues the spiral to greater climate change which is a climate and environmental justice issue affecting the most vulnerable and poor,” said Rev. Chan Anaya of the Episcopal Church in Navajoland Area Mission and New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light. “Coal mining and coal power plants also contribute to asthma, bronchial and other health concerns that cost lives and money. But at the same time coal and coal fired power plants are economic contributors to our communities and the Navajo Nation even as they adversely impact our environment. We must enter into true dialogue to transition from fossil fuels and coal that respects the dignity of the human person and the right to make a living while caring for the environment and reducing the growing climate catastrophe we face.”
“For decades coal mining companies have been paying royalty rates that are far too low, shortchanging taxpayers on their fair share of profits,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “And under the current federal coal program, many coal companies aren’t required to set aside enough money or insurance to clean up public lands after they are done mining―potentially leaving communities and taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars later on.”
Clean air advocates at the session highlighted the damaging health impacts of local coal mining and burning, and called for New Mexico taxpayers to receive a fair share of the profits made by coal companies by mining on public lands.
“Our public lands and resources are owned by all of us,” said Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter said. “When coal mining companies take those resources on the cheap without paying their fair share of royalties, we have a problem. But what makes matters even worse is that these low royalties certainly don’t even approach the costs to our public lands, to climate change and our communities’ health. Cheap coal is just too expensive.”
Attendees called on the BLM to enact the following reforms:
- Increase the coal royalty rate to 18.5 percent to match that of other fossil fuels extracted from federal lands.
- Close loopholes that let coal companies avoid paying some royalties by selling coal through their subsidiaries.
- Update regulations to make sure that potential profits from coal exports are considered in setting fair market value.
- Update regulations related to bonding that protect taxpayers from being stuck with hundreds of millions of dollars in mining cleanup fees.