BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Congress enters the debate over whether taxpayers are getting a fair return on coal mined from public lands in the Western U.S. as a House committee holds an industry oversight hearing this week.
Republicans in control of the House Natural Resources Committee plan to highlight coal's benefits. Those include $2.4 billion in federal revenues last year, plus thousands of mining jobs in Western states such as Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Utah.
But Democrats and environmental groups say an uncompetitive bidding process and increasing volumes of coal sent overseas are allowing mining companies to shortchange the federal government by millions or even billions of dollars.
Most sales of public coal occur in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, which accounts for more than 40 percent of U.S. coal production.