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Cheney Introduces Director Parfitt At AML Hearing; Emphasizes The Crucial Role Of The Coal Industry In Providing Affordable, Reliable Power For The Nation

Press Release

Date: March 18, 2021
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Energy

Washington -- Wyoming Congresswoman and House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney spoke at a House Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing earlier today on restoring abandoned mine lands, local economies, and the environment.

During the hearing, Rep. Cheney introduced Todd Parfitt, who serves as the Director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, and spoke about the importance of not disadvantaging the coal industry and removing unnecessary costs from the reclamation of abandoned mine lands by easing burdensome and unnecessary NEPA requirements. See below for her introduction of Mr. Parfitt and the questions that she asked of witnesses:

Introduction of Director Parfitt:

REP. CHENEY:Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thanks also to Ranking Member Stauber and Ranking Member Westerman. Thanks for the opportunity today. Obviously, this issue of abandoned mine lands is crucially important to us in Wyoming as we pay more into the program than any other state, and we're really pleased to have the opportunity today to have with us Todd Parfitt who serves as the Director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. Todd was appointed to the position first by Governor Matt Mead in 2012 and then reappointed by Governor Mark Gordon in 2019.

Todd's got 27 years of experience with the Wyoming DEQ, including seven years in the dual role of Deputy Director and Administrator of the Industrial Siting Division. He has testified numerous times before our committee and over on the Senate side, and I'm really pleased he was able to join us today and thank you very much, Chairman Lowenthal, for the opportunity to introduce Todd and to be with you all today. Thank you, and I yield back.

Witness Questioning:

REP. CHENEY: Thank you very much, Chairman Lowenthal. I appreciate it, I appreciate all of our witnesses today. I think, as has been noted by a number of the witnesses, the United States, and Wyoming in particular, produces the cleanest coal in the world. It remains, and will remain, an affordable and a reliable source of energy, source of power for the nation. I think it's also crucial for us to recognize the decline that we've seen, as the witnesses mentioned, since the program was last reauthorized in 2006. As we go forward in terms of thinking about reauthorization, particularly the fee structure, reauthorizing at the current rate will further disadvantage coal companies and create significant impacts for the people in the communities who rely on a healthy industry for jobs and for income. I think it's important for us as we go forward to make sure that we're looking at a formula that is not just a straight reauthorization, but that looks at the potential for reducing per ton fees and also looks at a shortening the amount of time for which a reauthorization would be effective, simply because of the economic circumstances in which we find the coal industry.

What I would like to do is ask first to Todd Parfitt, if he could talk a little bit about the impact, in particular, of NEPA requirements and how those affect the approval of AML projects, and if he could tell is whether or not he has recommendations or suggestions that might help us to improve that process?

DIRECTOR TODD PARFITT: Thanks for the question. NEPA is an important part of the AML process that we go through today, but it takes time and it takes additional money to do the NEPA clearances for the projects. Sometimes these NEPA clearances can take years to complete, slowing down the successful start of projects. One recommendation that I would have related to the NEPA analysis is because we're dealing with already pre-disturbed areas and we're trying to reclaim them and bring them back to the natural conditions, is take a look at the NEPA process and create a categorical exclusion for abandoned mine sites, which would help streamline the process and reduce the costs.

REP. CHENEY: Thank you. Todd, could you also talk a little bit about, as you look at the balance between the benefit from the AML program but also the decline that we're seeing overall, an industry that is really under significant stress -- how should we be thinking about the duration of the program? Should we rely on the coal industry to fund this program until all legacy coal mining sites are addressed?

DIRECTOR PARFITT: As has been pointed out, we've seen a reduction in the collections in AML fees and a reduction correspondingly in the production of coal in Wyoming. Since its peak, we've seen it reduced from -- the peak of 2008, we've seen the production reduced by 53 percent, but the contribution has steadily grown. Back in 1978, the contribution of Wyoming to the AML program was 12 percent. Today, it's nearly 60 percent. That coupled with the fact, as we've heard in the testimony, is that in just construction costs alone, it's estimated $10 billion worth of work remains. If you add the engineering costs on that, you're looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 billion a day with the current inventory. With the fees as they are now, if you assumed that it went on for 15 years, you would still only collect like maybe 17 percent of the need. So, along with the reduction in the fee, we also would consider that moving the AML reclamation reauthorization forward, but for a more limited time frame to recognize the fact that the AML fee to the coal industry isn't going to cover the costs moving forward.

REP. CHENEY:Thank you very much. I appreciate that, and I want to thank the Chairman again for the opportunity to participate today, and the Republican leaders. I yield back the balance of my time. Thanks very much.