The U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Royalty Policy Committee” met in Denver yesterday and WildEarth Guardians was there to witness firsthand just how this group is orchestrating the sell out of our public lands to the fossil fuel industry.
This “committee” was ostensibly established by President Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, to provide recommendations for how the federal government can “ensure the public receives the full value of natural resources produced from Federal lands.”
In practice, the committee has turned out to be a cabal of fossil fuel industry representatives who only want to roll back public interest safeguards to make it easier to mine, drill, and frack our public lands.
The bottomline is what this illegitimate committee wants is not to ensure Americans receive the “full value” of natural resources produce from public lands, but to maximize the amount of oil and gas development and coal mining on public lands.
In doing so, the Royalty Policy Committee is effectively denying that public lands provide any value other than their fossil fuel production potential. And, even more shamefully, the Royalty Policy Committee is effectively denying that fossil fuel development imposes any costs upon our society, such as climate costs and air and water pollution costs.
We saw this on full display yesterday. The Committee, which was previously chaired by an Interior Department official who now lobbies for the oil and gas industry and is now chaired by a Louisiana politician who effectively represents oil and gas interests, didn’t once mention the costs of fossil fuel development, the value of public lands for clean water, air, wildlife, and other values, and the toll of climate change.
It’s as if the Royalty Policy Committee lives in a world where climate change doesn’t exist, fossil fuel development has no negative consequences, and the oil, gas, and coal industries are the only thing keeping the United States of America alive.
Unfortunately, their world is not the real world.
Most importantly is that during the Royalty Policy Committee meeting, there was not a single mention of the broader American public interest that the U.S. Department of the Interior is supposed to be protecting.
Fossil fuel development of public lands is one of many uses that may generate economic revenue, sustain communities, and provide value for Americans. Outdoor recreation, clean air and water, hunting and fishing and more all generate considerable value for the American public.
In spite of this, there was no mention at all by the Committee of the values of public lands beyond fossil fuel development and the costs of oil, gas, and coal development to these values.
And of course, there was no acknowledgment or discussion among the committee of the ways that the American public is currently denied a fair return on oil, gas, and coal development on public lands.
Currently, the Interior Department is charging low royalty rates, assessing inadequate bonds, and spending taxpayer dollars to try to sell public lands to the oil and gas industry where there is absolutely no potential for oil and gas development.
Case in point, just this week, the Interior Department tried to auction nearly 300,000 acres of public lands in Nevada for fracking. Not a single bid was received. The reason? There is no oil and gas potential in Nevada. Rather than acknowledge this reality, the Interior Department is wasting taxpayer dollars trying to sell off public lands.
WildEarth Guardians provided comments at the meeting questioning their legitimacy, calling on the committee to address climate change, and demanding that they protect the public interest. The committee never responded, but at least they heard us. Check out our comments below.
In spite of the fact that the Royalty Policy Committee is obviously stacked with fossil fuel interests, obviously trying to rollback public interest safeguards, and obviously has no interest in protecting public lands, the Interior Department still claims the committee is balanced.
While it’s true the committee has a balance of coal and oil and gas interests, it most certainly has no balance of public interest.
And after witnessing yesterday’s meeting, it’s clear the committee is nothing but a scheme by the Trump Administration to enshrine climate denial, divest the public of their lands, and use taxpayer dollars to prop up oil, gas, and coal companies.
After seeing yesterday’s meeting, it’s clear the Interior Department’s Royalty Policy Committee is a complete scam.