Coal Showdown: Commissioners testify at BLM Listening Session concerning federal coal leasing program

Posted by kelli.little on August 20, 2015

Last Thursday, nearly 500 people turned out at the Campbell County Library in Gillette for a BLM Listening Session discussing coal royalty rates.  The meeting was attended by Wyoming’s federal delegation, Governor Mead, and many state and local leaders and officials.  Six county commissioners testified at the meeting, including President Richard Ladwig, who commented on behalf of the WCCA.  Below are his written remarks:

“My name is Richard Ladwig, I am the President of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and the Board Chairman in my home county of Niobrara.  On behalf of the Commissioners in all 23 of Wyoming’s counties, I am here in strong opposition to leasing reforms and royalty increases on coal production in the Powder River Basin.  Making coal more expensive to produce is exactly the wrong thing for our counties, our state, and our country.

“It is troubling that the Department of the Interior would use Inspector General and GAO reports on leasing that did not call for major reforms or rate increases as an excuse for this exercise. 

“We all clearly remember hearing then Senator Obama talk about bankrupting coal, and just last week Secretary Jewell stated that these sessions are intended to align coal leasing with President Obama’s ‘climate objectives.’

“If there truly are problems with the leasing program, then the counties in Wyoming invite an open and honest discussion about those issues.  But given these statements and the constant attacks on coal from this Administration and its allies, we can only conclude that royalty rate increases and expensive leasing reforms have nothing to do with determining a “fair share” for taxpayers, and everything to do with a political agenda.

“No one has a more vested interest in receiving a fair return from the mining of Wyoming’s resources than the citizens of Wyoming.  It has been stated already in these sessions that the coal industry suffers under a 30% federal tax and fee burden on each ton of coal mined.  Combine that with the over $600 million dollars paid in Wyoming’s state and local taxes and no reasonable person interested in the viability of coal as a fuel source can question whether or not coal is paying its fair share. 

“In fact, it can be argued that the only people not receiving a fair share from coal revenue is Wyoming – not because coal isn’t paying enough – but because the federal government continues to find ways to keep more of Wyoming’s money in Net Receipts Sharing and Abandoned Mine Land funds that rightfully belong to us.

“Numbers aside, I invite all of you and Secretary Jewell to visit my county of Niobrara and my neighbor county to the north, Weston County, to view exactly the results of coal’s clear fair share.  By some measures Niobrara County is the poorest county in Wyoming.  We don’t view ourselves that way, but we do have revenue challenges because we are not blessed with the mineral resources other counties enjoy. 

“Still, we benefit directly from robust coal production in the form of beautiful school facilities paid for with coal lease bonuses; well-kept roads paid for in part from taxes on coal; and the ability to meet the public health and safety needs of our small population thanks to distribution of taxes paid to the state.  “Like Niobrara, Weston County has no coal mine, but many people travel from that county daily to work in these mines.  Simply put, the loss of jobs inherent in making the mining of coal more expensive will hurt families, communities, and counties first.

“We strongly urge you to set aside any plans for a royalty rate increase and instead work with us to ensure that production of the country’s most abundant, reliable and affordable source of energy remains strong.”