Continued giveaway of public lands at bargain basement prices needs to stop

Back in the Bush administration, NRDC was constantly concerned about the massive opening of our public lands to the oil and gas industry, ongoing lease sales, and land management plans that allowed more harmful industrial development in ways that destroyed natural values and often violated important federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

While the Obama administration has improved some of the leasing rules to ensure more environmental assessment, we are still concerned about the extensive amount of continued oil and gas leasing and projects that don’t comply with NEPA.

Since January, the Obama administration put up for bid almost one million acres for oil and gas development in the lower 48—from Nevada to Alabama and many states in between. Industry leased 700,000 acres. Even more lease sales are planned for the remainder of 2013 and for 2014.

Not only is the federal government opening up more public lands all the time to oil and gas development, but it is giving away these  taxpayer-owned resources to the oil and gas industry at bargain basement prices.

Right now, the oil and gas industry has to pay federal royalties of 12.5 percent. According to a recent report from the Center for Western Priorities, this rate has not been updated since the 1920s.

Some private citizens and even the state of Texas get a 25% royalty rate – twice as much! And many states have royalty rates that are higher than the federal government. North Dakota and New Mexico, for example, each have a royalty rate of 18.75%.

According to a recent analysis by economists Pete Morton and Joe Kerkvliet, an increase in the federal royalty rate to 25% would generate an additional $2.4 billion in additional revenue to state and federal treasuries each year, with half going to the federal treasury and half going to the state where the extraction takes place.

If the rate were increased to only 18.75%, the revenue increase would still be $1.2 billion annually.

The administration doesn’t need congressional action to increase the royalty rates, or to increase land protection and stop giving away public wildlands to the oil and gas industry. It can—and should—act immediately to protect our public lands and taxpayers and stop the giveaways.