GOP pushes bills to keep future presidents from doing what Obama did on energy

By Michael Bastasch

The House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a markup hearing for seven bills, including two to prevent future U.S. presidents from unilaterally imposing two Obama administration policies.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican, introduced legislation barring the Interior Secretary from placing a moratorium on coal mining leases on federal land without permission from Congress.

West Virginia GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins has legislation to prevent federal agencies from using the “social cost of carbon” metric in crafting new regulations, environmental reviews or other federal actions.

This is by no means the first time Republicans have brought forward legislation to bar future presidents from doing what former President Barack Obama did, but both these bills could see support from pro-coal Senate Democrats.

The Obama administration issued a moratorium on new coal mining leases in early 2015, prompting outrage from Wyoming lawmakers. Wyoming is the country’s largest coal-producing state thanks to the federally-owned Powder River Basin.

Interior officials said the moratorium was part of a plan to revamp how the agency leases out lands and how much it charges companies to extract resources. Environmentalists backed the effort, saying low lease rates were effectively coal subsidies.

“It’s a fossil fuel giveaway that’s costing taxpayers $1.1 billion a year and it’s driving the central environmental challenge of our time,” Sharon Buccino, director of the land and wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in 2015.

“That’s the wrong direction for our country and we need to make a course correction,” Buccino said.

However, Trump administration reversed the moratorium and royalty reforming effort earlier this year.

President Donald Trump’s order to reverse the coal lease moratorium also nixed the “social cost of carbon” (SCC) metric. That figure was used to justify major regulatory schemes, like the Clean Power Plan, to remake the way the U.S. generates electricity.

The Obama administration put together a federal working group to craft the SCC, and in 2013 the group raised the SCC to $35 per metric ton.

Economists have hotly debated the validity of a $35 per ton SCC — and even whether or not a figure like that is even appropriate.

A 2016 study by the conservative Heritage Foundation found the SCC was much smaller than the Obama administration would let on given observed warming rates.

Heritage economists even found “a substantial (about 40 percent or more) probability of a negative SCC through the first half of the 21st century.” That would mean a net benefit to every ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.

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