WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday, U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Hoeven (R-ND) and Mike Lee (R-UT) sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell calling on the Department of the Interior (DOI) to suspend its review of the federal coal program and its moratorium on new coal-lease sales.
In the letter, the senators express concern over a recent report titled, “The Economics of Coal Leasing on Federal Lands: Ensuring a Fair Return to Taxpayers,” published by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers on June 22, 2016.
The senators explain that by publishing this report, the White House has short-circuited DOI’s ongoing review of the coal program in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Under federal law, environmental reviews “shall serve as the means of assessing the environmental impact of proposed agency actions, rather than justifying decisions already made.”
“The Council of Economic Advisers’ report has effectively turned BLM’s review of the federal coal program into a pre-baked cake. The Council is an arm of the Executive Office of the President. Its Chairman serves as the President’s chief economist, is a Member of the Cabinet, and plays a lead role in setting administration policy. Its report shows that the White House has already decided that the federal coal program does not provide a fair return to the public or adequately account for externalities and to increase coal royalty payments.
“To ensure the PEIS does not justify decisions already made, we ask that you immediately suspend development of the PEIS and the leasing moratorium for the remainder of the administration. A failure to do so will only make the PEIS and decisions purportedly based on it vulnerable to legal challenges,” wrote the senators.