Coal mining companies attack our efforts to address climate change, often calling federal policies aimed at cutting pollution and promoting renewable energy a “war on coal.” But in reality, some of the biggest coal companies — like Peabody Energy — have actually grown because of their access to subsidized federal coal.
This coal is owned by the American public, but until recently, the Interior Department mostly allowed the coal industry itself to manage our coal, turning the federal coal program into little more than corporate welfare for coal. And the biggest coal companies, which have also done the most to delay climate and clean air policies, actually depend on federal coal most of all.
In fact, data published in a new report today shows that most of the coal mined by the three biggest coal companies in the United States belongs to the American public.
Using data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we calculated the amount of federal coal mined in 2014 by Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Cloud Peak Energy, and compared those figures to each company’s total U.S. coal production. The results show that federal coal accounted for 68 percent of the total coal mined in the U.S. by Peabody Energy, 83 percent for Arch Coal, and 88 percent for Cloud Peak Energy.
Fortunately, earlier this year the Obama administration announced a moratorium on new coal leasing and a comprehensive review of the federal coal program. As Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others in the Obama administration conduct that review, they will need to contend with the current corporate control of publicly-owned coal.
Instead of continuing to subsidize increased coal production and the coal industry’s political attacks, the Interior Department should realign the management of federal coal by consulting with communities impacted by coal mining and transport, helping to ensure a just transition from coal to clean energy, and supporting U.S. commitments to address climate change.