Lawmakers are asking the U.S. Department of Interior to review whether companies are shortchanging federal and state governments out of millions of dollars in royalties on coal exported to foreign markets.
Friday’s request from Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski comes as U.S. coal exports hit a record of an estimated 124 million tons last year. That includes coal shipped to Asia from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
The senators want Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to determine if companies have violated federal leasing law by paying royalties on the coal’s mine price, then selling it overseas at a higher price through affiliated brokers.
Reuters reported that Salazar’s agency responded Friday to the senators’ call by saying it will tighten oversight of how companies pay federal royalties on certain coal exports.
Wyden is the incoming chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski is the panel’s ranking member.
Higher royalty payments could make shipping coal through Washington and Oregon less profitable. Coal companies have proposed building five new coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest.
National Mining Association spokeswoman Carol Raulston says companies believe they are complying with the law.
The concerns over export royalties were first reported by Reuters.
In a press statement Wyden and Murkowski said they want to protect taxpayers against the potential loss of tens of millions of dollars in annual royalty revenue.
“This is so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said: Coal companies need to be paying taxpayers all of the money they are owed,” Wyden said in the statement.
(Hover over markers to hear reports on coal in communities of the Northwest. Then click “website” for more EarthFix coverage. Click here for larger map view. Note: Train routes are approximations. They illustrate potential corridors based on existing lines and publicly available information.)
Share your experiences as part of EarthFix's Public Insight Network.
Join our Public Insight Network!