You Aren't Allowed To Know How Much of Your Coal Is Being Sold (Cheap?)

October 26, 2016

It's your coal — so why can't you know how much is being sold to whom at what price? The Interior Department says you can't.

The vast coal seams below federally owned lands in the West are a resource owned by the American people as a whole — and when rights to mine them are sold to coal companies, it is supposed to be on terms that are in the public interest. So you'd think public scrutiny via open information would be a given.

But you'd be wrong. The Interior Department (which manages those lands) recently denied parts of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for exactly such information from the Climate Investigations Center.

Joe Smyth, a reporter for the Center, put in a FOIA request in June 2016 for information on recent federal coal sales volume tonnage by company. He got some of the information he requested, but Interior blacked out information about volumes sold to certain companies. The grounds for refusal? FOIA exemption 4, which exempts "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential."

The Center filed an appeal on October 12, 2016, and Interior has 20 working days to respond. Stay tuned. Here is the appeal letter.

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