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BLM schedules 6 remote meetings to discuss federal coal lease reform


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BLM schedules 6 remote meetings to discuss federal coal lease reform

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has scheduled sixmeetings in an effort to gather public input on potential federal coal leaseprogram reform.

The federal agency hopes that the meetings, which will startin mid-May and continue through June, will inform the kinds of issues andpolicies that were outlined in a new programmatic environmental impact statement,announced on March24.

The BLM is interested in topics like how market conditionsaffect coal, the effect of coal on the environment, whether taxpayers receive afair return for federal coal leases and how all of these factors affect thecommunities that depend on the resource.

"As we begin this review, we are looking forward tohearing from the public about a wide range of issues about the federal coalprogram," BLM Director Neil Kornze said in an agency release. "Theinformation we gather will help shape future decisions about this publicresource."

Some of these changes to the coal program include a possible50% raise in theroyalty payments producers make, increasing the rate on surface mining to18.75% from the 12.5% companies pay now. This new rate would reflect that paidby offshore oil and gas production in U.S. waters.

The White House announced a on new leases in mid-Januarywhile the agency conducts its review, but critics say that the planned inputmeetings leave out key coal states like Montana. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont,called the Obama administration "unconscionable" for the lack of ameeting in Montana, which together with Wyoming accounts for 85% of all federalcoal production.

The BLM noted in the release that public listening sessionswere held last year over concerns about the coal program in Montana, Wyoming,Colorado and Washington, D.C.

The meetings all run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 17 inCasper, Wyo.; May 19 in Salt Lake City; May 26 in Knoxville, Tenn.; June 16 inPittsburgh; June 23 in Grand Junction, Colo.; and in June in Seattle on a dateto be confirmed later.

The meetings in Casper, Seattle and Pittsburgh will belive-streamed on the BLM website while all meetings will have an audio link viatelephone. The public can also submit written comments electronically or viamail until July 23.