Cantwell, Grijalva to Zinke: The Fox Should Not Guard The Hen House

Members Remain Committed To Ensuring American Taxpayers Get A Fair Deal

October 3, 2017

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) are raising questions about Secretary Zinke’s Royalty Policy Committee.
During his confirmation hearing, Secretary Zinke committed to reviewing royalty rates for federal fossil fuels and making sure taxpayers get a fair return. However, Secretary Zinke continues to expand corporate influence over U.S. public lands and natural resources.

Tomorrow, the Department of the Interior’s re-established “Royalty Policy Committee” will meet for the first time to discuss the multi-billion-dollar revenue collection program from energy development on public and tribal lands. Zinke stacked the committee with trade associations and individual companies that would benefit from weakened royalty collection policies and have previously paid less than they should to the American taxpayers.

“Now that Republicans want more energy revenue, it’s time for them to stand up and show what a fair deal for the taxpayers really looks like. Letting coal and oil companies off the hook on royalties has been a big mistake and it should end now," said Senator Cantwell.

“Secretary Zinke must have been thinking about his inappropriate ‘loyalty’ remarks when he stacked this committee. Only an administration deep in the oil industry’s pocket would create a royalty panel without any input from taxpayer, public interest or environmental advocates. We were promised transparency and public accountability, and we got something designed to keep the White House safe from too many outside opinions,” said Rep. Grijalva.

In the letter the Members sent in August, they expressed their, “commitment to ensuring that the American people receive their fair share for the use or sale of publicly-owned mineral resources such as oil, natural gas, and coal.”

“Continuing to turn more public lands and undervalued minerals over to the oil and gas and coal industries cannot continue,” the Members wrote. “Stating that you are in favor of a fair return for taxpayers is meaningless when your actions act as giveaways to fossil fuel companies. Prior to taking any further steps to increase or streamline fossil fuel production on federal lands, it is imperative that you first modernize the Department’s fiscal policies.” 

Stakeholders have also criticized Zinke’s Royalty Policy Committee.

Mark Squillace, Professor of Law, University of Colorado Law School:
“For many years, the public has been denied a fair return on our public lands minerals and as a result, the States and federal government, which share the returns from our public mineral properties, have lost billions of dollars.  While I am disappointed that Secretary Zinke failed to appoint a more representative committee, the arguments favoring reform are powerful and one hopes that even a committee that is heavily slanted toward the industry will come to appreciate the overwhelming evidence supporting the reform of our federal mineral royalty policies.  Only by recommending significant reforms will the committee serve the public interest.”

Dan Bucks, Former Director of Revenue for the State of Montana:
“While allowing companies that have a direct interest in cutting royalty payments to the American people to sit on the Royalty Policy Committee is an inherent conflict of interest, as always, sunlight is the best disinfectant. These companies should publicly disclose their royalty returns and audit documents, the benefits they've received from recent policy changes under this Administration, and records of their communications with Interior. The public has a right to the information needed to prevent any abuse of the public's trust that could easily result from these companies' presence on the committee.” 

Bob LeResche, Powder River Basin Resource Council Chair, former Alaska Commissioner of Natural Resources and former Executive Director of the Alaska Energy Authority:
“An important part of Interior’s charge to manage natural resources owned by all Americans is their proprietary duty to achieve a fair return when they lease or sell fossil fuels. It is high time that the government prioritizes revenues that benefit all citizens, improves their lax financial management, and stops selling oil and gas to corporate interests at below market prices.”

Christy Gerrits, Board Member, Powder River Basin Resource Council and retired school teacher, Gillette, Wyo.: 
Speaking to the need for DOI to modernize and strengthen its fiscal policies for oil and gas development, “These commonsense reforms are exactly what we need for our youth. They will generate funding for our schools, while also preserving more of our outdoors. Educators can provide their students countless hands-on lessons in science, archeology and history of Native Americans and pioneers on our public lands.” 

Jayni Hein, Policy Director, Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law:
“We know that increasing federal royalty rates for coal can lead to millions of dollars in additional revenue for states and the federal government, which supports schools, infrastructure, and more.  Interior is tasked with managing federal natural resources for public benefit; it must heed this charge and not cater to private interests at the expense of all taxpayers.”