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Democrats, analysts insist federal coal lease program needs fix

Democrats and policy analysts say that fixing the federal coal leasing program should still be a focus of the incoming leadership of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

"At this point the fate of the coal moratorium and the programmatic review are up in the air," Jayni Foley Hein, the policy director at the Institute for Policy Integrity, told S&P Global Market Intelligence. She said the Trump administration will have to choose whether it wants to help taxpayers or help the coal industry in its decision on how or if it will update the program.

Hein recently penned an op-ed column in The Hill stating that taxpayers received a bad deal from the current tax rate paid on coal.

On Jan. 17 at the confirmation hearing of Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., as the next secretary of the interior, the Montana lawmaker said that "a review is good" in response to questioning from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., concerning federal coal lease program reform.

Zinke also said that "bonding is important" and that some of the reclamation problems the West is facing have not yet been repaired.

"I think we need to have the courage today to look 100 years forward and look back and say 'we did it right,'" Zinke said, according to a release.

A report publicly released recently by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and requested by Cantwell and others found that the practice of self-bonding was a unique provision offered to the coal industry that no other types of mining or energy industries can access.

Hein said she was not clear based on the statements made at Zinke's hearing how he felt about federal coal program reform. She said she believed many of the reforms suggested through the results of a review of the program released by the DOI in the final days of outgoing Secretary Sally Jewell were still worth pursuing and could provide billions of dollars of revenue for taxpayers.

In terms of whether Trump would move on reforming the program, Hein was less certain. She said his administration has stated more publicly that they would like to lift the moratorium but has remained silent on reforming federal coal leasing.