Will Congress Protect Natural Resources on Public Lands?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


This morning, at the second of two hearings in the House’s Natural Resources Committee,  POGO director Danielle Brian applauded Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s elimination of the Royalty In Kind program that governs the extraction of resources like oil from government land  (you can read my post on the first hearing and the many problems with RIK here). But Brian said Salazar’s move still “does not adequately drive a stake through the heart of the program.” RIK came about as a way of collecting royalties without placing the burden of auditing companies on the Interior department. However, as Brian pointed out, “What has happened is that we never know if we are making money and don’t know if royalties are enough. We must audit to determine this, which defeats the purpose of collecting royalties in kind.” Last week Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill to create a new agency in the Interior Department to oversee oil and gas leasing of federal lands. 

Not everyone is happy with that idea. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) grumbled that eliminating RIK would lead to more litigation and decrease royalties. “I hate to see that we keep making it harder to get at our resources. Keep in mind the poor single moms who have been hitting me up when gas prices get high.”

But the problem isn’t just one of money. There’s also the environmental cost that occurs when resources are extracted from public lands without proper oversight. Stephen Smith, mayor of Pinedale, Wyoming, testified about the environmental degradation his community has seen since the extraction of the town’s 35-trillion feet of natural gas. The House Natural Resources committee is currently considering legislation that could provide greater oversight over companies drilling or mining for natural resources from federal and Indian lands. With or without the CLEAR Act, will the west’s wilderness withstand the extraction of its vast, untapped, publicly owned natural gas reserves?

 

 

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest