The coal market has changed.
U.S. coal used to be mined primarily for domestic use, but markets overseas are growing as domestic demand declines.
A new report from the environmental group Sightline Institute outlines that history and argues that the Bureau of Land Management should take it into consideration when setting fair market values for coal.
“By ignoring the economics of export, BLM is essentially underpricing coal that’s owned by the American public,” said Clark Williams-Derry, the report’s author.
In general, coal sales are split about 50-50 between the federal government and the state where the coal was mined.
The report was produced in collaboration with the Western Organization of Resource Councils and the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
Williams-Derry said private companies are buying coal at very low prices and making a killing selling that coal to Asia. He is calling for changes, so the public sees more benefit from the sales.
“The best thing for BLM to do would probably be to revise its policies to require a consideration of export sales when setting the fair market price of coal,” Williams-Derry said.
Tennessee’s coal comes mainly from the Cumberland Plateau and Cumberland Mountains.
The Department of Environment and Conservation describes the state’s coal industry as small but high-quality, worth almost $70 million a year.