The Build Back Better budget reconciliation deal before Congress would enact long overdue common-sense reforms needed to address the antiquated laws and practices governing oil and gas developments on our public lands. How we develop these resources has real-world impacts on communities all across the country seeking to diversify their economies away from the boom-and-bust cycles of resource extraction—and it’s time that Congress support these communities and take meaningful steps to plan for a clean energy future.
While the trend began long before the pandemic, COVID-19 dramatically shifted how Americans think about work and recreation. Now, people really understand the value of getting outdoors—for a run in the park, a weekend float down the river, or a multi-day wilderness backpacking trip. And businesses across the country are maximizing telework opportunities, freeing Americans to work remotely while living close to outdoor recreation and high-quality natural spaces.
Communities want to protect and enhance their outdoor recreation opportunities in ways that can optimize their local economies—attracting visitors, business investment, and jobs. Communities that invest in their local landscapes also attract new residents such as telecommuters and retirees, further bolstering local economies.
As economic development opportunities continue to grow through investments in outdoor recreation, new oil and gas production will inevitably decrease leaving many communities that depend primarily on resource extraction with fewer jobs and less revenue.
It’s time our federal budget reflects that growing reality. And there is much we already agree upon in several bi-partisan bills that would both update our oil and gas leasing system while also raising revenue through modernized royalty rates, updating our bonding requirements, and requiring competitive bidding for leases of federal public land.
Which is why it is common sense to support the bi-partisan revenue-raising proposals in the budget reconciliation bill that bring our leasing system into the current century.
For example, Senators Rosen (D-NV) and Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill to increase royalty rates for leasing public land that have not been updated for decades. And Senators Cramer (R-ND) and Lujan’s (D-NM) REGROW Act would, in part, strengthen bonding requirements that will protect taxpayers from millions, if not billions, in future orphaned well liabilities and address the orphaned well crisis. . Both sides of the aisle agree on the need for these reforms and both proposals should emerge as part of the reconciliation package.
As our national economy—and our local public land communities—claw their way back from the chaos of COVID-19, Congress should seize the moment and raise revenue through reforms of our outdated federal oil and gas program. Including these critical adjustments in the budget reconciliation bill will benefit communities across the entire nation. Again, these are reforms that Republicans and Democrats already agree on. The time to act is now.
Jason Keith is Managing Director of Public Land Solutions