By Jessica Goad
A new report released today by the Center for American Progress takes a critical look at how public lands and waters owned by American taxpayers are used when it comes to electricity. It finds a serious disparity between coal and renewable energy from resources from the federal estate:
We found that federal lands predominately provide coal for electricity—currently, approximately 66 percent of the electricity generated from the resources that belong to all Americans comes from coal, while 15 percent comes from renewable resources, including hydropower, and only 1 percent is derived from solar, wind, and geothermal projects combined.
The report offers a variety of solutions to this problem, including a proposed new “clean resources standard” that would require 35% of electricity from resources from public lands and waters to be renewable by 2035.
Other policy proposals delineated are:
- Put a carbon price on coal mined on public lands
- Reform the leasing process for coal mined on public lands to achieve fair market value
- Establish renewable energy zones on public lands and waters
- Include public lands and waters in the executive order on sustainability to better track the government’s carbon pollution
- Ensure that all federal environmental analyses include scientific carbon pollution studies
The predominance of coal when it comes to electricity from public lands is problematic for many reasons. First, coal is in many ways not in the public good — it is a major cause of climate change, it contributes to health problems like asthma and mining it can permanently damage landscapes.
Also, the prioritization of coal mining over renewable energy neglects a major opportunity to use public lands for ushering in a clean energy future. The vast scale of the public estate, along with the existing authority of federal agencies to manage it, could allow these places to help jumpstart American clean energy development.
The current imbalance between coal and renewables begs the question—why should our lands be used to produce artificially cheap electricity that has significant health and environmental impacts? As CAP’s report further argues:
It defies common sense that we would continue to heavily subsidize a dirty fuel that burdens Americans with environmental and health costs, while at the same time benefiting large, wealthy corporations. The public should not foot the bill for the consequences of coal mining on public lands, especially if coal companies plan to enrich themselves even further by exporting American resources overseas.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund