A bill that Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke is pushing to lift the Obama Administration's suspension on coal leases on federal lands made progress in the House Thursday.
The Certainty for States and Tribes Act passed the House Natural Resources Committee 22-13, mostly along party lines. It aims to reinstate the Royalty Policy Committee, made up of state, tribal, public and industry voices that advise the Interior Department on energy policy and regulation.
Zinke told the committee that the coal industry has suffered under the current administration.
"And one should recognize that over the course of this administration 400 coal mines have shut down, and a loss of 83,000 jobs. Eighty-three-thousand jobs. Those are real American families,” Zinke said.
California Democrat Alan Lowenthal said there were problems with Zinke’s bill. He said the Department of Interior placed a pause on new coal leases while it works out unfair returns to taxpayers on federal coal and updates the coal leasing program.
"This bill unfortunately short-circuits that process by setting an arbitrary end date to the review and grandfathering in unnecessary coal leases under the old flawed system."
If approved by Congress, Zinke’s bill would end the moratorium on coal leasing by January 2019. Support for the coal industry is something both Zinke and his Democratic opponent for re-election Denise Juneau say is a top campaign issue.
During the same work session, the House committee also approved a bill that would federally recognize the Little Shell band of Chippewa, along with other tribes. About 4,500 Little Shell members live in Montana, but don’t have a reservation.
Zinke said the bill wasn’t perfect, but he will work to pass it, with the Little Shell recognition as a stand-alone provision.
Denise Juneau has said she also supports federal recognition of the Little Shell, and they deserve their own bill.
Montana’s entire congressional delegation has supported efforts to recognize the tribe on the federal level. The State of Montana recognized the tribe in 2000.