Coal companies are objecting to an Obama administration proposal that could raise their state taxes to cover the cost of regulating surface mining.
The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is floating the idea to help cut its spending by $16.7 million. The agency's proposed $146.1 million budget for fiscal 2011 would cut the funds given to coal states to regulate surface mines.
Instead, the agency is encouraging states to raise more money from industry with higher fees. The proposal reflects Obama's commitment to cut subsidies for fossil fuel industries, agency director Joe Pizarchik said.
"I know it's going to be difficult for the states to deal with that," he said.
The coal industry says it's a job-killing idea that will raise energy prices for struggling Americans.
"The more than 375,000 people who work in America's mines are the backbone of our economy and are essential to our recovery," National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said in a statement. "Their efforts should not be stopped by new taxes that will cost jobs and hurt our economy."
Coal producers are already struggling with weak demand from their largest market, electric utilities. Slumping industrial production has cut demand for electricity. As of October, U.S. Department of Energy figures show generation overall was down 3.8 percent from a year earlier. The figures also show a 7.6 percent drop in generation at coal-fired power plants.
The result has been steady string of mine closures and other cutbacks across coal country. Through January, coal production was down 8.3 percent from the prior year, according to the Energy Department.
The coal industry likewise complains that states such as West Virginia, the nation's No. 2 coal producer, already get plenty of money from coal companies. In the current fiscal year, West Virginia has taken in $171 million in general revenue from coal.
"We're already paying," West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said.
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