Have coal companies been ripping Americans off even more than we already knew?

Feb 8, 2013 by

 Grist

 

By Philip Bump
The coal industry, for as much as it whines and frets and fake-cries about how oppressive the government is, gets a pretty sweet deal. We’ve noted before than companies pay 25 cents a ton for coal from public lands and then can turn around and sell it for $35 a ton. (We’ve also mentioned that they often sell that coal to China, meaning we’re subsidizing the world’s largest consumer of coal, but that’s a whole other issue.)

This was reported as eight pounds of coal, probably
This was reported as eight pounds of coal, probably.

What makes this so much more galling is that the weepy coal companies might not even be paying for all of the coal they’re extracting. From The Hill:

Interior is looking into whether mining firms lowball the value of coal excavated from federal lands to minimize the fees they pay the government. …

Reuters said mining companies are underreporting the price of coal at mine sites — where royalties are assessed — then selling it to marketers that they often times own. Reuters said those intermediaries then ship the coal abroad, where they fetch higher prices.

[Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.)] and Energy Committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) had asked [Interior Secretary Ken] Salazar to examine those charges in a January letter. They said the government could ill afford to lose out on any revenues, noting coal royalties amounted to $898 million in 2011.

The National Mining Association suggests that the Reuters report was inaccurate. Of course, the NMA also went out of its way to propagate the “war on coal” nonsense, so it can be ignored.

As part of its investigation, Interior will review a decade of coal sales, largely from the Powder River Basin region in Wyoming and Montana that provides much of the coal exported to Asia. The department is also considering a new system that would assess a royalty on coal companies’ proceeds rather than tons of coal mined.

Or, to crib from bad parents from the 1950s: Coal companies, we’ll give you something to cry about.

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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