Congress is considering an egregious giveaway of publicly-owned oil, gas, and coal

Rep. Rob Bishop wants to let states run roughshod over endangered species while ripping off taxpayers

As Congress returns from August recess, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) is back to work on his pet project: advancing bills that hand over control of America’s publicly owned land and natural resources to states and private companies. This week, the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Rep. Bishop, is holding subcommittee hearings on multiple bills that would undermine public management of America’s national lands.

Rep. Rob Bishop | Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Federal Land Freedom Act (H.R. 3565), sponsored by Representative Diane Black (R-TN), would allow states to “assume the federal leasing, permitting and regulatory responsibilities for oil and gas exploration, development, and production” on U.S. public lands. The bill would let state regulators take over leasing and permitting of oil companies, free from any federal oversight.

First introduced in June of 2013, the Federal Land Freedom Act is full of troubling provisions, including ones that would exclude these national lands from commonsense protections like the Endangered Species Act, standard environmental reviews, and historic preservation programs. In the past, the bill has been supported by a number of the Koch brothers’ right-wing policy groups, including The Sutherland Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and The Heartland Institute, as well as the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas industry-backed group.

The bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, handing over America’s publicly-owned mineral resources to pave the way for massive, unabated oil and gas development, while leaving taxpayers on the hook for managing the land, including the costs of fighting wildfires. It’s a land seizure bill, but with even more dire consequences for taxpayers and wildlife.

The Federal Land Freedom Act cites misleading findings to claim that oil and gas development on public lands is suffering when in fact onshore oil production on public lands is up 60 percent in the last decade.

Reality check

Oil and gas companies pass up millions of acres of U.S. land offered for lease and sit on nearly 8,000 approved, but unused drilling permits (a record high) and 14 million acres of unused public lands leases. Bureau of Land Management data shows that there is no significant backlog of applications and oil and gas companies are often to blame for delays in the permitting process.

Time and time again, Westerners have rejected land seizure efforts at the state and national level. More than two-thirds of Western voters believe that national public lands belong to all Americans and not just to the residents of a particular state. Land seizure bills continually fail in state legislatures in the West.

Despite overwhelming evidence that disposing of public lands is politically toxic, Rep. Bishop continues to push land giveaway bills to benefit oil and gas companies. Rep. Bishop even changed House rules in the current Congress to make it easier to pass land seizure bills.

The Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee is also holding hearings today for the Planning for American Energy Act of 2017 (H.R. 2907), which would require the Interior Secretary to pervert the concept of “sustained yield” — originally applied to renewable resources such as timber — and apply it instead to non-renewable resources such as oil, gas, coal, and even uranium. The subcommittee will also address the State Mineral Revenue Protection Act (H.R. 2661), which would require royalty payments from the extraction of American-owned resources to be paid directly to the states — a giveaway of publicly owned natural resources.

The list of witnesses for the hearing makes it clear who wants these bills to become law: the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming are all in Washington to support this giveaway.

Turning oil and gas leasing and permitting over to the states would be a huge loss for American taxpayers — and it’s the reason why the Federal Land Freedom Act has failed twice before, never passing out of committee.