(Adds reviewing renewable energy production in first paragraph)
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, March 29 The U.S. Interior
Department said on Wednesday that it would form a new committee
to review royalty rates collected from oil and gas drilling,
coal mining and renewable energy production on federal lands to
ensure taxpayers receive their full value.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the committee would
advise him on whether the government is getting a fair price
from companies that lease public land for energy and natural
The committee will replace the process put in place by
former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to review and overhaul
the federal coal leasing program.
"The programmatic review put in place (by Jewell) was costly
and unnecessary," Zinke told reporters on Wednesday.
"I have established a royalty policy committee to provide
advice to me about how we value collections across the board,"
In January 2016, the administration of former Democratic
President Barack Obama began a multiyear review of the federal
coal leasing program after government and watchdog reports found
Interior's Bureau of Land Management was not properly accounting
for the fair market value of coal.
It also ordered a moratorium on new coal leases for at least
three years during the review, which Republican President Donald
Trump officially rescinded in the executive order on energy he
Zinke's committee will instead get recommendations on
adjusting royalty rates for coal, as well as oil and gas, from a
panel of up to 28 members.
Members will include Interior Department officials,
representatives of western states and Indian tribes that produce
energy, energy stakeholders and academic groups who will serve
Federal coal, primarily from Wyoming's Powder River Basin,
accounts for more than 40 percent of all of that fuel mined in
the United States and produces for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse
Zinke's predecessor Jewell said a review of the program was
three decades overdue and necessary after reports called for
more transparency in the leasing process.
Environmental groups raised concerns that replacing the more
comprehensive review with a committee approach will mean that
other core problems with federal energy leasing will not be
addressed, such as transparency and boosting competition in
“Cancelling the coal program review is a serious mistake
that only harms American taxpayers, coal states and
communities," said Dan Bucks, former director of revenue for the
state of Montana.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and