I have spent hours and days researching and educating myself on the workings of the US Department of the Interior. My hope was that I could come up with information and facts that reflect the role and activities of our government’s management of public lands. There is so much information out there from various groups that contradict each other depending on whether the individual group is pro economics or pro environment. Basically I couldn’t root out any common ground.
As it turns out, the functions of the Department of the Interior (DOI) are extremely broad including departments that you wouldn’t expect.
The Department Of the Interior was established in 1849. The cabinet level department was created in order to manage the US’s internal affairs. This turned out to be the department that served as the catch all for the miscellaneous functions of government that did not have an established home. Back then the key function of the department was the responsibility for everything from managing public lands, including financial agreements to the relationships between the government and native Americans.
As it is now there are numerous sub-organizations that fall under the umbrella of this bureaucratic system. These sub-departments include Fish and Wildlife; Indian affairs; land and minerals; water and science and insular affairs (oversees US possessions).
Surprisingly, the Department of the Interior also governs the Inspector General, being a part of the Department of Justice that oversees among other things, government conduct and matters that effect the government’s exposure to legal peril. The DOI also oversees the Solicitor General representing the government’s relationship with the Supreme Court.
For the purpose of my commentary, the following generally reflects my fairly simple understanding of this part of the government as well as some activity related to energy and the exploitation of public lands that many Americans may not be aware of.
To me, the DOI has a direct effect on some of the biggest issues that effect the management of the people’s properties with regard to programs such as the mineral leasing act. There is little attention within public conversation and media to the various issues, yet the consequences will have a lasting effect on the land assets of this country far beyond our children and grand children. For me, I think we should be aware of how our country is managing our resources and be allowed to decide what happens or doesn’t happen. Even if it means balancing the effects of making money versus the compromise of assets owned by all of us.
First off, the People of this country own 650-700 million acres of land which includes land occupied by the military. Twenty six percent of federally owned land is or can be used for oil, gas and mining interests.
The way it works is simple. The corporations will lease or rent land from the government, obtain permits and have at it. The country will then generate revenue from the rent plus royalties for every barrel of oil or ton of coal extracted.
The revenue is significant and comprises a good portion of our returns on domestic oil and gas production. There are however, some big problems with this concept. The President, the Secretary of the Interior and many in congress look at the fossil fuel business as an easy opportunity for increasing the general income of the country. In light of this they are actively promoting expansion, reduction in some common sense regulations as well as opening up more public land for production by the big oil companies.
As I see it, here is the problem. Oil and gas companies are afforded ginormous hand outs and financial considerations from our government. Lease per acre rates are very low, taxes are next to nothing and most of the common sense regulations are being repealed. DOI Secretary Zinke (who I think is kind of shifty) regularly announces the government’s intention to expand the amount of land we make available for these groups. It kills me to discover that they even want to allow this industry into our national parks.
It is worth noting that it is the government’s plan to aggressively pursue domestic independence with regard to oil, gas and coal energy production has been a priority of many in government long before Trump was elected. A significant benefit of energy independence is to effectively control production and supply in order to set prices. The difference is the current administration is running in hypermode to help these private companies gain new opportunities.
In the past oil production and prices were for the most part set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Administered in large part by Saudi Arabia, this group is put together through agreements with oil producing countries in big part in order to standardize prices, efficiency as well as demand and production.
These days there are domestic indexes from domestic crude oil providers within the industry such as the West Texas Intermediate and Brent Crude which are benchmarks in setting current and future crude oil prices in this country. In vague terms, Wall Street regularly uses the prices of these indexes to tab crude oil rates including the investment in crude oil and commodity future contracts. Less impactful, the OPEC basket is still used by some.
In the US, the oil and gas extraction on public lands provides a relatively small number of jobs compared to what the companies generate in revenue and profits. On the flip side, current and future jobs that the renewable resource industries will provide make the fossil fuel companies contributions seem less significant.
With regard to sustainable and renewable energy sources, a large percentage of the utilities, private power companies, auto makers and even individuals in this country are already accepting the future and investing in cheaper, renewable sources to provide their energy. You don’t have to be an economist to see that the very near future of clean energy related jobs in this country will out grow fossil fuel employment through the development of alternate fuel technologies. The truth is that coal is already a dying industry with exception to what they export.
The impact of the private development of public land has an immediate negative impact on the environment. Renewable energy and hydro power have significantly less. As a good example of the opposite, look at China who depends on coal for the majority of their power generation. Google china pollution images to get an idea of the obvious effects of coal on their environment.
It is kind of baffling that even China along with almost every other country in this world participate in the climate change accord. I guess we are much smarter and can do a better job on our own (sarc).
Since there is little requirement for land rehabilitation after processed locations are abandoned, we will have to live with the permanent impact of extracting fuel from the ground. There is already major damage to the aquifers located in and around the crude oil deposits as well as damage to the important solid ground elements that support the control of events such as erosion and even earthquakes. There is also the matter of the impact of crude oil processing as a result of failed facilities and pipelines. Some of the damage such as leaky pipes will have a lasting effect on our environment. These events are far more frequent than you would think.
We all know that oil exploration and production on public lands has existed for decades. To me it is the expansion and locations of these projects that we can control and insist that they are not in the public’s best interest. Up until now the main controversy revolved around the expansion of oil exploration and increased production in Alaska. That debate is still going strong.
Since the future of our power will be provided by green sources, I don’t think we should be expanding and opening up more public land. To me it would make sense for the future to not allow private oil companies to grow in these areas. I believe I am not a hypocrite on these issues even though I supported and know that Obama passed a law that was immediately repealed by Trump that would have allowed solar and wind operations on public lands that would provide power to our military bases.
Unfortunatley, the current administration supports the across the board deregulation of many laws regarding fossil fuel extraction and even construction of things like pipelines. They are not willing to acknowledge or prioritize the risks that put our land or waterways in possible, sometimes probable peril. This seems kind of hanky to me, even though I do recognize that these issues are more complicated than I have laid it out.
This whole subject on either side has a silver lining. Very soon, Millennials will represent the values and priorities of our country. Many of them see alternative energy as very important to our future including employment, even if the industry is not a specific part of the job that they work in. If you think of how progressive this group is you will find that they typically don’t generally think of anything other than solar wind or water power to provide energy for this country.
Further to the climate change issues, they have been witness to crazy weather that has not happened in our lifetime but since this generation knows of nothing else, the continuing effect of climate change is an important and ongoing matter for the future of their planet. Overall, the Millennials will soon carry the torch with regard to stewardship surrounding the future of our country including the environment, our financial health and our dominant standing around the world.
For me, our public land is our land, not Exxon-Mobil’s. Our government needs to get it together or the generation who is growing up will do it for us.
Incidentally, a little off the subject, how come I never hear of people expressing a hmmm moment with regard to fact that the big energy companies make more profit from the proceeds of the gas they sell to us over what they ever contribute directly to our country’s economy through taxes or related support industries. Think about it when you consider tax reform or our growing deficit or the price of gas.
I have inserted some data regarding the hierarchy of the Department of the Interior. I think it is pretty interesting. Also there are many more departments within government that are not running the way they should nor are they properly staffed in order to be efficient. Since there is so much else going on in the world, we haven’t been keeping an eye on them. So, more to come.