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Mountain West News Bureau

Coal Lease Rates Hit New Low In Powder River Basin

A coal train in the Powder River Basin.
Jerry Huddleston
A coal train in the Powder River Basin

Coal lease rates have hit a new low in Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. This is the money companies pay to the federal government to dig up coal from public lands.

Cloud Peak Energy will pay the federal government less than 20 cents per ton for the right to mine coal in a new expansion project.

“It is the lowest amount that Powder River Basin coal has gone for in at least a decade,” says Shannon Anderson with the environmental watchdog Powder River Basin Resource Council.

She says in the past, it cost companies around a dollar per ton to mine coal on federal land there. This coal, she says, is being dug up at fraction of that price.

“And so that means there’s very little revenue coming back to the American taxpayer for this coal resource,” she says.

Anderson says she doesn’t know why this lease is so cheap.  For his part, BLM spokesperson Brad Purdy says the way his agency appraises coal is confidential.

Either way, the money from coal leases help pay for school repairs and road projects across the Mountain West.

Last year, the Trump administration lifted an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases.