The federal government should pay native tribes to leave coal in the ground so that America can limit its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a progressive American Indian journalist wrote in a recent article.
“Some 30 tribes have coal resources, totaling at least one third of Western coal, on lands from Arizona to Alaska,” Mark Trahant, the American Indian journalism professor and columnist wrote in Indian Country Today. “So the United States should pay the tribes with coal assets a significant sum to not mine their resource.”
The article concludes that having the federal government simply purchase the energy reserves of native tribes and leave them in the ground would slow the rate of global warming and alleviate the staggering poverty of Indian reservations.
The professor’s argument is based on an opinion column published earlier this month in The Washington Post that argued the federal government should simply purchase the entire coal industry. The amount of money needed to buy the energy rights Indian reservation lands would be enormous, with enough resources to enrich the tribes by $75 billion annually, according to a study by The Property and Environment Research Center.
“The cost of any buy-out would be enormous. Unless the accounting included the even more massive costs associated with climate change,” Trahant continued. “Then the purchase of coal to not mine should be considered as an investment not a cost. There is precedent for paying to take coal out of production. Farmers and ranchers are paid to not farm and ranch in order for the land to recover through several programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program. This would be the same.”
Due to federal bureaucracy and trusteeships of agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management mean that roughly 86 percent of Indian lands with energy or mineral potential remain undeveloped.
These trusteeships have already slowed the development of energy resources on Indian land enough to cost the average reservation resident $12,145 in lost revenue annually, according to an academic economic analysis published in January. Over 20 percent of American Indian households on reservations made less than $5,000 annually in 2013, compared to six percent of the general U.S. population.
For example, the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota has the lowest per capita income of any group in America, averaging a mere $4,043 annually. The Crow tribe has an unemployment rate over 30 percent and a poverty rate above 40 percent. Roughly 20 percent of the area’s economic output and eight percent of the worker pay in the region comes from a single coal mine, according to a study published by Harvard University.
The systematic deconstruction of the coal industry has reached beyond Indian reservations to the “coal country” of Appalachia, which has been economically devastated. Coal mines lost 7,500 jobs last year alone, according to federal data and a study last April found the coal industry lost 50,000 jobs from 2008 to 2012.
Federal regulations aimed at preventing global warming, which caused coal power plants to go bankrupt, resulting in a sharp decline in the price of coal, are to blame for much of the job loss.
The situation for coal miners and Indian tribes would likely get worse if Obama’s Clean Power Plan is fully implemented. The plan would more than double the number of coal plants shutting down over the next five years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The shutdowns have a cascading effect, causing coal production to collapse by a predicted 30 percent over the next decade.
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