Mountain communities are feeling the impacts of a changing climate. From reduced snowpack and protracted droughts to increased flood risk and more severe wildfires, towns and taxpayers across the West are bearing the growing financial costs of adapting to a changing climate. And while taxpayers in mountain communities are absorbing the costs of carbon pollution, coal companies who are mining and causing carbon pollution on nearby federal lands are able to pay below market rates for taxpayer-owned resources. Tax loopholes and outdated federal royalty policies have allowed the coal industry to avoid paying American taxpayers more than $1 billion a year in revenues — revenues that could instead have helped our Western communities to deal with the costly challenges of a changing climate, and supported our schools, roads and other essential priorities.
Mountain communities, whose economies and futures are impacted by climate change and who are on the hook for adaptation costs, support closing these gaping loopholes, which allow coal companies to dodge royalty payments owed to American taxpayers, and ensuring those funds are instead paid out to taxpayers and state governments that need the revenue for local schools, roads, and other priorities.
In 2015 we developed a report on the issue, Paying the Costs of Climate Change, and recently released a follow up report, How Federal Coal Reform Could Help Mountain Communities Mitigate the Costs of Climate Change.
Working on this issue, for two years now the Obama Administration has heard the calls from mountain communities across the West. On January 15, the Interior Department announced the launch of a comprehensive review of the coal leasing program with a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). According to the Interior Department’s press release, the PEIS will consider “how, when, and where to lease; how to account for the environmental and public health impacts of federal coal production; and how to ensure American taxpayers are earning a fair return for the use of their public resources." The PEIS includes a moratorium on all new coal leases while the review is taking place.
We applaud President Obama and Secretary Jewell for their leadership in reforming a federal coal program that is broken, outdated and costing taxpayers millions of dollars in lost revenues. Until these reforms are finalized, mountain communities will continue to ensure that the Obama Administration meets their commitment.
MOUNTAIN PACT ACTION
The Mountain Pact and the communities we work with support the Department of Interior's (DOI) effort to modernize the federal coal program by ensuring that companies pay their fair share.
- Ten mountain communities sent a letter to Interior Secretary Jewell to submit public comment in support of the Interior Department's coal royalty reform proposal on July 27, 2016.
- Mountain Pact delegations of town representatives testified before DOI leadership in across the Intermountain West. Representatives from the Town of Alta, Bend, Hood River, Leavenworth and Telluride spoke about the need to better account for the climate, environmental and public health impacts of coal production, ensure a fair return for the use of taxpayer's resources, and transition our nation's infrastructure and workforce to better cope with climate change. The testimony was part of the DOI's second round of listening sessions inviting public feedback on the PEIS. The Mountain Pact attended the May 19th Salt Lake City, June 21 Seattle, and June 23 Grand Junction listening sessions.
- In partnership with Sustainable Development Strategies Group, we published the 'Planning for the Economic Future of Colorado's Coal Communities'.
- Taos Ski Valley Mayor Neal King published an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal on April 13, 2016.
- Two Mountain Pact delegations of town representatives testified before Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and DOI leadership - including BLM Director Neil Kornze and DOI Deputy Secretary Mike Connor - on the federal coal program. Representatives from the Town of Telluride, Village of Taos Ski Valley, Town of Buena Vista and Town of Alta shared the impacts of climate change they are seeing in their communities and urged BLM to incorporate the costs of climate change into federal coal extraction leases. The testimony was part of the BLM's listening sessions inviting public feedback on the federal coal program. The Mountain Pact attended the August 18 Denver and August 20 Farmington listening sessions.
- Ten mountain communities submitted written comment to the BLM urging the agency to incorporate the costs of climate change into coal leases on September 17, 2015.
- Eleven mountain communities submitted written comment to the DOI in support to close regulatory loopholes and stop the exploitation of taxpayer-owned federal lands on May 5, 2015.
- Park City Mayor Jack Thomas published an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune on March 28, 2015.
- Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser published an op-ed in the Denver Post on May 6, 2015.
- Leadville Mayor Jamie Stuever published an op-ed in the Colorado Springs Gazette on August 27, 2015.
- Mountain Pact Executive Director published an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal on August 27, 2015.
- A key goal of this policy campaign was to bring media attention to the issue and highlight mountain community support for the Interior Department's proposal. With coverage in U.S News and World Report, Associated Press, Colorado Public Radio, Outside Magazine, and the Denver Post (among others) plus ads in USA Today during the Western Governors Association annual meeting and the Denver Post during the BLM listening sessions, our efforts have been a success.