It’s been a busy week for energy in Washington D.C.
While the national conversation has been dominated by the tax debate in Congress, significant changes to energy development in the west are the focus of at least two new bills moving forward in the House. One would require congressional approval for any future moratorium on federal coal leasing, while another proposes to eliminate the Obama administration’s calculation of the so-called “social cost of carbon.”
Wyoming Public Media’s Cooper McKim talked to Dylan Brown, a reporter for E & E news covering coal and mining, for an explanation of these bills and their potential impact on western states like Wyoming.
Social cost of carbon calculation:
Brown: (The social cost of carbon) 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. 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.
Republicans are working to scale back (climate related regulations) 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 (of the social cost of carbon) and changing the models that companies and Republicans objected to.
This bill will go to the House floor where in all likelihood it will pass. It’s had overwhelming Republican support.
Congressional support for future moratoriums on federal coal leases
Brown: Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s bill is a response to the Obama administration last year imposing a moratorium on federal coal leasing.
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.
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.
(Congresswoman Cheney’s) 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.
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.
- Learn more about the history and present of clean coal with reporter Madelyn Beck’s latest piece: Wyoming Nears Finish Line in Clean Coal Project.
- In Colorado, energy and housing developments are getting closer together, and it’s causing problems. Learn more here.
- Check out Inside Energy’s full length podcast episode to learn what Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Teddy Roosevelt have in common.