Berger Represents Wyoming at BLM Coal Lease Hearing

Berger traveled to Seattle with, from left to right, Executive Director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority Jason Begger, Senator Bill Landen, Senator Ogden Driskill, Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King, Senator Michael Von Flatern, Dr. David Fall, Berger and Representative James Byrd. (Courtesy photo)

Wyoming House of Representatives Majority Floor Leader Rosie Berger of Big Horn joined fellow members of the State Legislature this week to voice their support of the coal industry at the Bureau of Land Management’s Federal Coal Leasing Programmatic EIS Scoping Session in Seattle, Washington. Berger said that in western states like Wyoming and Montana, she sees attempts to overhaul the federal coal leasing program as yet another case of the federal government picking winners and losers, and families and consumers of electricity across the country are all losing.

During her testimony at the hearing, Berger pointed out how crucial the coal lease bonuses have been to the construction of schools throughout the State.

Berger traveled to Seattle with Senators Bill Landen, Ogden Driskill and Michael Von Flatern, Representative James Byrd, Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King, Dr. David Fall and Wyoming Infrastructure Authority Executive Director Jason Begger.

The following is the full transcript of Berger's testimony:

Good morning, and thank you for this opportunity to submit comments on the federal coal leasing program.

My name is Rosie Berger and I serve as the Majority Floor Leader in the Wyoming House of Representatives. I represent Sheridan, Big Horn and surrounding areas located in the North Central part of the state.

To the east and to the north of my community is the Powder River Basin -- the largest coal-producing region in the United States. About 85% of federal coal production comes from the Powder River Basin.

Today you will hear many comments from representatives, stakeholders, community leaders and citizens of western states like Wyoming and Montana who will bear the quickest and most direct impact from changes to the federal coal lease program.

You’ll hear about how our nation relies on our coal to provide affordable, reliable power at fair rates to consumers.

You’ll hear about how since 2002 coal lease bonuses have generated over $19 billion in revenue for federal, state and local governments – monies critical to our local communities.

You’ll hear about Wyoming’s successful reclamation efforts and how over ½ of the disturbed areas are reclaimed or in process.

You’ll hear how the Wyoming State Legislature has defended and promoted Wyoming’s energy sector by:
•Investing in clean coal projects like the Integrated Test Center that will spark innovation, reduce emissions and help ensure a future role for mineral production
•And taking action to help keep state control over regulation of mineral extraction.

You’ll hear about how the federal coal lease program is a win-win for taxpayers who benefit from low cost electricity with the government receiving fair value.

The federal government receives a royalty and bonus payment, determining a fair value in advance and not accepting bids under FMV.

Measured fees under the coal lease program translate into lower costs for consumers. An increase in fees will likely result in higher electricity costs for all Americans.

And when the cost of electricity goes up, so does the cost for all goods and services.

You’ll also hear concerns about this Programmatic EIS being too vague in nature and not laying a definitive goal or purpose. Many of us fear this EIS is a solution in search of a problem.

What’s more, we fear that the EIS fails to look at the larger picture when it comes to taxes and fees levied against coal producers. Coal leases are only one piece of the puzzle. When you address these fees, you must do so in the context of every other tax, fee, demand and strain put on the industry.

But I’m here to talk about the people. When we talk about coal, we have to understand that we are talking about PEOPLE – men, women, children, families, neighbors and communities. We’re talking about families, layoffs, foreclosures, not going to college, moving out of state, less food on the table.

In Wyoming, it's the everyday-working folks who are being hurt the most by this Administration’s heavy-handed regulation of the coal industry. Not only are people losing their jobs, but the jobs that remain cannot support a family.

A decrease in hours coupled with a decrease in hourly rates has resulted in a 40 percent decrease in wages for some Wyoming workers … and even more for many others. Workers and their families are getting hit from both the rate and the available hours, and those are the lucky ones who still have jobs to go to.

In western states like Wyoming and Montana, we see attempts to overhaul the federal coal leasing program as yet another case of the federal government picking winners and losers. And western states, western families and consumers of electricity across the country are all losing.

As you consider changes to the coal lease program, I ask you to keep these people in mind. Thank you for your time and consideration.