Saturday, 26 March 2011

BLM clarifies dollar figure of Wyoming coal sales

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is correcting the estimated value to the government of millions of tons of Wyoming coal it intends to sell.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the BLM will auction off 758 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin this year. Salazar said the coal will benefit the state and federal governments between $13.4 billion and $21.3 billion in taxes, royalties and other payments.

On Friday, the BLM told The Associated Press that estimate includes another 1.6 billion tons of coal to be sold at a future date.

The estimated value to the government was a key feature of Salazar’s announcement in Cheyenne on Tuesday.

The notification came after the Star-Tribune called both the BLM state office and the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., to notify them of the error and request comment Thursday. The BLM didn’t comment on the issue to the Star-Tribune despite numerous contact attempts Thursday and Friday.

That 1.6 billion tons of additional coal lies under 13,966 acres of land in the Powder River Basin and is part of four other leases still under consideration by the BLM, which is expected to reach a key decision within the next several months on the environmental impact of mining the leases.

The total in bonus bids, royalties payments and severence taxes was calculated over the life of the leases and nearly half of that total comes back to the state government.

The incorrect figure first caught the attention of Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, who mentioned it to the Star-Tribune in an interview. He estimated the actual value to the government of 758 million tons of coal from the lease sales is more likely to be $2 billion.

The Interior Department’s statement about the announcement remained uncorrected on the department’s website late Friday. Department staff did correct a small, unrelated error in the statement on Thursday.

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