GAO writes roadmap to increasing revenue for American parks and public lands

Instead of fixing a century-old law, Secretary Zinke wants to make it more expensive for Americans to visit national parks

Photo Credit: Jacob W. Frank, Glacier National Park

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was on Capitol Hill the past few days defending President Trump’s proposal to slash 11 percent from the Interior Department’s budget, while telling lawmakers he’s in the market for opportunities to raise new revenues to help fund national parks.

By chance, the Government Accountability Office issued a new report this week, providing a roadmap for Secretary Zinke to generate up to $38 million annually in new revenue by modernizing the royalty rates paid by companies producing oil and gas on national public lands. The royalty rate — which is what companies pay taxpayers for the right to produce publicly-owned oil and gas — is currently set at 12.5 percent.

This rate, which was first set in the 1920s, is significantly lower than royalty rates paid by companies drilling on state-owned lands. For example, Texas charges a royalty of 25 percent on state lands, New Mexico charges a rate of 18.75 percent, while Colorado and Montana charge 16.67 percent.

Data compiled by the Center for Western Priorities

Secretary Zinke even promised during his confirmation hearing to ensure taxpayers received a fair value from oil and gas development on public lands, explaining, “I think taxpayers should always get a fair value.” And yet, nowhere in the President’s budget or in Secretary Zinke’s testimony did he discuss reforming outdated royalties.

Rather, Secretary Zinke wants to raise new revenue for national parks by increasing entrance fees into the parks. He told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday:

“The best funds for the parks are through the door: tickets to the door. We’ve had 330 million visitors through our parks last year. Half our parks didn’t charge.”

The Interior Secretary is proposing we make it more expensive for Americans to visit parks and public lands in order to offset the massive budget cuts the Trump administration is proposing.

What the secretary did not tell lawmakers is that the most the Interior Department could generate by maxing out entrance fees is $28 million — or $10 million less than the new revenues generated through royalty reforms. Secretary Zinke is showing us his true colors: he hopes to raise revenues on the backs of everyday Americans, while continuing to allow oil and gas drillers a free pass on public lands.

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