Mountain towns and coal taxes

The three units in the Comanche Power Plant at Pueblo, Colo., burns coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin and delivers electricity to much of Colorado, including the Aspen and Vail ski areas. Photo/Allen Best

The three units in the Comanche Power Plant at Pueblo, Colo., burns coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and delivers electricity to much of Colorado, including the Aspen and Vail ski areas. Photo/Allen Best

Mountain towns take position on royalties from federal coal leases

by Allen Best

Ten mountain towns in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico have signed a letter calling for coal mining companies to pay more for coal extracted from federally-owned deposits.

The coal companies can pay royalties based on percentages of initial sales to subsidiaries at reduced rates.

“By eliminating subsidies and requiring coal companies to pay royalties on the true market price of coal, rather than on the hidden price at which it is sold to a middleman or a subsidiary, the government will collect a fair return for U.S. taxpayers and Western states (an estimated $1 billion per year), and increase government transparency and efficiency,” says a letter sent to U.S. officials, lawmakers, and the White House.

The Denver Post reports that the towns included Aspen, Buena Vista, Dillon, Leadville, Ophir, Ridgway, and Telluride, all in Colorado, plus Park City, Utah, and Taos, N.M.

This past week, Carbondale and  Crested Butte also added their names  to the letter. However, the  Crested Butte News reports that the town council has not agreed to a  request from the High Country Conservation Advocates to oppose a coal-mining operation in the nearby North Fork of the Gunnison Valley.

Stuart Sanderson, who heads the Colorado Mining Association, an organization heavily laden with coal-mining companies, rejected the allegation of a revenue loophole.

Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said the protest was provoked by concerns about global warming impacts.

“If they’re going to continue to burn coal, it has to be cleaner,” Fraser told The Denver Post. “This needs to happen sooner rather than later. It’s very important that we have less pollution going into the environment.”

See Fraser’s op/ed in The Denver Post.

Leadville Mayor Jaime Stuever said fossil fuels more generally need to be cut. “If there’s no consistent snow, due to global warming, then we need to look at other forms of tourism.”

The letter was put together and the support of the towns was solicited by a new and small group called the Mountain Pact. It’s based in the Tahoe Basin, at Stateline, Nev., and was put together by Diana Madson, who conceived of the of working with mountain towns while a graduate student at the Yale University of School of Forestry and the Environment from 2012-2014. It has the full-time equivalent of two employees, she tells MTN, and is affiliated with the non-profit Sierra Business Council, which was formed two decades ago to pursue triple-bottom-line solutions.

The municipalities of Park City, Durango, Aspen, and Vail plus the Tahoe Regional Planning agency are also listed as being members of the steering committee.

Madson says her group has worked on the issue of federal water rights on ski area permittee lands as well as wildfire disaster funding.

The group’s website also offers this: “The Mountain Pact offers a new approach, one that looks beyond urban and coastal areas to engage a new constituency in climate change policy and advocacy. By bringing our vulnerable mountain communities together, the Mountain Pact engages a new constituency in the national climate dialog and builds economic and environmental resilience through a shared voice on federal policy.



About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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