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Senator Markey calls for fix in US coal sales

BILLINGS, Mont. — Congressional investigators have found problems with federal coal sales that might have cost taxpayers $200 million or more in lost revenue, a senator said Tuesday.

Citing a new report by investigators at the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, US Senator Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, called for the sales to be suspended until the problems are rectified.

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More than 40 percent of US coal production — or about 450 million tons a year — comes from public lands leased by the government to mining companies under the century-old Mineral Leasing Act. Those leases bring in more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

While exports of the fuel to lucrative Asian markets have surged in recent years, the rules for leasing government-owned coal have remained largely unchanged since 1990.

‘‘Taxpayers are losing out so that coal companies can reap a windfall and export that coal overseas where it is burned, worsening climate change,” Markey said. “This is a bad deal all around.’’

A sweeping, 19-month examination of the Interior Department’s coal-leasing program by the GAO revealed widespread inconsistencies in how the government values public coal reserves that are leased to private mining companies.

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