The federal government’s controversial coal program is the subject of a public listening session in Billings Tuesday. It’s the first of four planned throughout the heart of American coal country. The Department of Interior is encouraging the public to enter the fray.
Currently, 40 percent of coal mined in the U.S. comes from public lands. Much of that under federal lands in Montana and Wyoming.
After hearing concerns about coal policy Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced in July the Bureau of Land Management would host a series of listening sessions on the coal program.
"The focus of these is really the administration of the program and the return to the taxpayers the royalties that are charged," says Al Nash, spokesman for the BLMs Montana/Dakotas Bureau.
Companies pay royalties to the government for the privilege mining coal on federal land. The current practice has been criticized because it’s not assessed on the true market value of coal and is instead assessed on the first time coal is sold. That practice costs government coffers up to $175 million a year.
In determining what is fair coal policy, Nash says the royalty program will scrutinized.
"How much royalties come back to the taxpayers? What's it take to administer the coal program, and are the current royalties appropriate for the work that's done, and is it an appropriate rate of return to the taxpayers?"
The meeting begins at 1:00 p.m. Tuesday at the Hampton Inn in Billings.
The listening tour includes stops in Gillette, Wyoming; Denver, Colorado; and Farmington, New Mexico.