A push from two Pennsylvania congressmen to extend fees charged on coal production to help finance the cleanup of abandoned mine lands (AML) could put financial pressure on coal producers well into the future.
Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) are set to introduce the Abandoned Mine Land Reauthorization Act that would require coal producers to continue paying fees that are currently set to expire in 2021. If this new push from the Pennsylvania congressmen (which is generating bipartisan support) is successful, the fees will be extended until 2036.
Under the legislation as it stands today, coal producers on their production pay 28 cents in fees per ton of surface coal, 12 cents per ton of underground coal, and 8 cents per ton of lignite coal. These fees are funneled into a fund dedicated to cleanup efforts across the country and also pay for health benefits of certain retired coal miners. Supporters of the fees say it’s vital to the recovery of these AML sites that are leading to the costly pollution of surrounding areas.
Allowing Coal to Flourish
Continuing to charge these fees could further harm the health of the U.S. coal industry, which has recently experienced its fair share of setbacks. While many in the media are ready to pronounce the coal industry dead, coal is far from going extinct and remains a critical element of the broader U.S. energy picture. It’s true that natural gas has emerged as the country’s crown jewel of energy consumption, but coal still remains one of the most widely used sources of energy in many parts of the U.S.
In fact, coal remains the most-used energy generation source in 18 states. In 2017, coal provided 30 percent of total electricity generation across the U.S., which was just under natural gas’ 32 percent.
Also, while the number of coal mining jobs has dropped significantly over the past several decades, the industry still employs more than 50,000 Americans. This figure has even increased slightly since 2016 as President Trump has been able to largely halt the drop in coal employment during his tenure in the White House.
The Edge: Preserving the Strength of the U.S. Energy Sector
As a whole, the U.S. energy market is on solid ground. American energy production, usage and exports are up, while emissions and costs are down by historical standards. The country has also increased its competitive position in the global market. Last year, the U.S. became a net oil exporter for the first time since the 1940s, will remain a net energy exporter through at least 2050, and is leading the world in total greenhouse gas emission reductions.
The industry has an opportunity work with legislators to ensure this positive momentum continues and the U.S. maintains its domestic and global energy dominance.
The good news is there has been progress in the energy sector. Recently, lawmakers have taken action to speed project permit approval times for certain renewable energy projects and create clearer pathways for future pipeline construction. But at the same time, some state governments have set somewhat unrealistic and overly aggressive climate plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that could hinder the industry’s growth.
While the AML Reauthorization Act will help fund the cleanup of abandoned mines, it’s important that these rules do not overly punish an industry that’s already under pressure.