Interior Secretary Jewell challenged on coal moratorium in Oregon
by Joe Smyth
© Greenpeace / Tim Aubry
An activist from the group Columbia Riverkeeper used the chance to ask Jewell about proposed coal export terminals. The activist wanted to know if the Department of Interior will stop granting leases while it investigates whether companies have avoided paying royalties on export sales of coal mined on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Jewell didnt answer the question directly. Our charter within BLM is multiple use on those lands, and part of that is ensuring we get a fair return for the American people. So thats very important to us, she said.[caption id="attachment_18077" align="alignright" width="300"] Interior Secretary Sally Jewell[/caption] That activist isn't the only one wondering - over 5,000 Oregonians are among the 135,000 people that havecalledon Secretary Jewell to put a halt to the Interior Department's flawed program that leases taxpayer owned coal. Secretary Jewell received alettercalling for a moratorium and comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program on her first day on the job from environmental, public health, and community groups, including several groups concerned about coal export proposals in the Pacific Northwest.The Department of the Interior leased over 2.1 billion tons of coal in the Powder River Basin during 2011 and 2012, while ignoring the climate impacts of unlocking nearly 3.5 billion metric tons of carbon pollutionwhen this coal is burned. Oregon's top officials have raised concerns as well. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee,called for a reviewof the federal coal leasing program, following aReuters investigationthat found coal companies like Peabody, Arch, and Cloud Peak may be cheating taxpayers of royalty payments. That review is nowunderwayby the Interior Department's Inspector General, and the Government Accountability Office is also conducting an investigation.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has made clear that he understands the critical role of the Interior Department in the coal industry's export plans.Governor Kitzhaber's April 25, 2012 letter to the Army Corp of Engineers and Interior Department calling for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement of coal export proposals, states: "The EIS must be prepared before regulatory or additional coal leasing decisions are made."
Secretary Jewell will attend another event in Portland today focused on energy and infrastructure projects - alongsideGovernor Kitzhaber.