Will Congress Protect Natural Resources on Public Lands?
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?