House Kills Earmark Requiring Defense Department to Purchase Pennsylvania Coal

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By Ari Natter

June 11 — A long-standing earmark requiring the Defense Department to purchase millions of dollars of Pennsylvania coal and ship it over 3,000 miles to heat military bases in Kaiserslautern, Germany, would be repealed under Defense Department appropriations legislation approved by the House June 11.

The rider, which has been included in every Defense Department appropriations bill since 1972, has required the government to purchase millions of tons of coal, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion, according to a 1989 estimate.

“It’s about time we stopped burning dirty coal—and taxpayer dollars—to power this military base,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the author of the amendment to H.R. 2685, said in a statement.

For decades, the Defense Department has urged Congress to remove this earmark and allow the use of cheaper fuel to power its military bases. The amendment was adopted by a 252-179 vote.

The author of the coal purchase requirement, former Pennsylvania Democrat Daniel Flood, left Congress in the 1980s, but his amendment designed to prop up the declining anthracite coal industry in his district has remained as a “zombie” earmark, Huffman's office said in a statement.

Taxpayers spend $20 million a year complying with the mandate for anthracite—a hard, carbon-dense, and more expensive variety of coal—which is loaded onto rail cars and later shipped from an East Coast port to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group that opposes the coal mandate.

Former Staffer Defends Program 

Michael Clark, a former Flood staffer who has lobbied in favor of the coal requirement for the now-defunct Anthracite Industries Association and currently for the German city of Kaiserslautern, which operates the municipal utility contracted with the military to provide heat, defended the mandate and said only $1 million was spent complying with the program last year.

“Anthracite gets a very bum rap,” Clark said in an interview. “Everyone wants to believe because it is shipped on a boat it is needless and expensive. It isn’t.”

German coal on a per-ton basis is significantly more expensive than any foreign coal offer received by the utility—SWK Stadtwerke Kaiserslautern, Clark said.

“The use of U.S. anthracite coal to heat US military installations is not only cost-effective, it provides nearly $2 million annually to the US economy, along with direct and indirect jobs associated with the mining, handling and shipping of the coal,” according to a fact sheet provided by Clark. “That is money spent here—not for foreign fuels.”

Amendment Prohibits ‘Green' Spending 

Separately, an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) that would prohibit DOD spending on biofuels, electric vehicles, solar panels and other “green energy” programs was adopted by voice vote.

In all, the amendment would prohibit roughly $7 billion in spending, a McClintock spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA.

The underlying legislation, which would appropriate $578.6 billion for the Defense Department, was approved by a vote of 278-149.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com