Romney Energy Plan Would Let States and His Oil Donors Drill On Public Lands

By Jessica Goad

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney today released his energy plan with a speech in New Mexico.  One of the most controversial pieces of the plan would give states control over energy development on federal public lands, a policy that would likely allow energy companies more access to them, allow bypassing of federal public health and environmental safeguards, and decrease certainty for companies and the public.

It is an extreme proposal, especially from a candidate who admitted that he did not know the “purpose of” public lands.  But an analysis of Romney’s top energy advisers, donors, and the ideas of the American Legislative Exchange Council may shed some light on the origins of this proposal.

A number of advisers and donors close to Romney own oil and coal leases on public lands, showing their business interest in opening these places to development:

–  Romney’s top energy advisor is oil baron Harold Hamm, who made his $11 billion fortune developing shale oil in North Dakota.  His company, Continental Resources, has permits to drill for oil on public lands, some of which were approved as recently as this month in Montana and North Dakota.  Hamm also has given $1 million to Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super-PAC.

–  Another Romney energy advisor is ex-Senator Jim Talent (R-MO), a lobbyist who has Peabody Energy, one of the nation’s biggest coal producers, amongst his firm’s clients.  Peabody and its subsidiaries have coal leases on federal lands in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, and just yesterday paid only $0.25 per ton, or $750,000, for the rights to mine more than 3 million tons of publicly-owned coal.

–  Bill Koch, brother to Charles and David Koch, has given at least $2 million to Restore Our Future.  A subsidiary of Koch’s company, the Oxbow Corporation, owns and operates the Elk Creek coal mine on public lands in Colorado which is expanding its operations.

Romney’s plan to turn over decisions about energy development on federal lands to the states also recalls similar proposals promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing corporate front group that designs pro-corporate legislation for state legislators and is funded by the likes of Exxon Mobil, Shell, and Koch Industries.

By way of comparison, this year ALEC endorsed legislation in Utah that would turn 30 million acres of federal public lands to the state.  Documents from show that as early as 1995, the group had penned the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” a model law “designed to establish a mechanism for the transfer of ownership of unappropriated lands from the federal government to the states.”

Additionally, ALEC has frequently touted the superiority of state regulations over those of the federal government.  For instance, it developed a model bill that would prevent states from complying with federal safeguards unless they are consistent with state law.  As the Center for Media and Democracy put it, this bill is “largely at odds with Supreme Court jurisprudence.”

The desire for more access to public lands for drilling is nothing new for the oil and gas industry, which has been relentless it its push for opening more acres to oil and gas production.  This is despite the fact that drilling is alive and well on public lands—indeed, the Bureau of Land Management held three of its five biggest oil and gas lease sales in the agency’s history in 2011.

The idea of turning public lands that belong to all American over to the states was too extreme even for conservative Republican and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who said upon her veto of a bill mandating this that she is “… concerned about the lack of certainty this legislation could create for individuals holding existing leases on federal lands.  Given the difficult economic times, I do not believe this is the time to add to that uncertainty.”

Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

9 Responses to Romney Energy Plan Would Let States and His Oil Donors Drill On Public Lands

  1. Doug Bostrom says:

    Energy independence by 2020, that’s the comical and ludicrous promise made by Romney.

    Such an obviously ridiculous assertion makes the man a figure of fun, somebody who genuinely can’t be taken seriously.

    Start laughing. Don’t stop laughing until Romney’s taken his place as failed presidential candidate.

  2. Doug Bostrom says:

    That is to say, don’t even bother talking about environmental impacts, giveaways to plutocrats. Those are strictly small change compared to the joke potential of this “plan.”

    Everybody loves a joke; jokes are bipartisan.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    He who laughs last, laughs loudest’. Romney is relying on the greed, ignorance and stupidity of the ‘know-nothings’, the Dunning-Krugerites the ‘unknowing unknowings’. I’d say 10% of them know of Arctic sea ice catastrophe, and 99% of those couldn’t give a stuff. Romney, Obama, Cameron, Harper et al-the Anglosphere produces nought but madmen.

  4. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    Romney is not happy with destroying the arctic ice cap by 2020, he seems intent on melting antactica as soon as in-humanly possible.

  5. Ozonator says:

    Extremist Republicans and Christians want to replace Wal-Marts and McDonalds encroaching on Gettysburg with a Pickett’s charge of fracking rigs. Include the war on history to be a graphic novel for survivors of Tampa.

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    Romney would log Yosemite and drill in Yellowstone if he could. “I don’t see the point in public lands”.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There must be oil down there.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    As the Right’s great hero, Ronnie Raygun said, as he consigned thousands of years old sequoia to the saw, ‘You seen one redwood, you seen ’em all’.

  9. Chad says:

    Why on earth are we selling coal for $0.25 a ton, when we darned well know that the externalities related to the burning of that coal would be more than two orders of magnitude higher than the income we get from selling the coal?

    It just like I found a way to reduce CO2 emissions by ten cents a ton. Sheesh, the stupidity of Republicans knows no bounds. And yes, it is their fault.