Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Hardrock Mining and Fossil Fuels Extraction on America’s Public Lands Get Failing Grades in Fair Share Scorecard
Press Release

RELEASE: Hardrock Mining and Fossil Fuels Extraction on America’s Public Lands Get Failing Grades in Fair Share Scorecard

Washington, D.C. — Amid growing public concern over abandoned hardrock mines and the management of resource extraction on America’s public lands, the Center for American Progress and the Center for Western Priorities today released a new report that assesses the relative costs to taxpayers of six types of energy and mineral development from federal lands and oceans. The report analyzes revenue policies for resource extraction based on returns to taxpayers, comparisons with state and private sector policies, and external costs resulting from environmental impacts and pollution cleanup efforts.

According to the report, called the “Fair Share Scorecard,” the policies governing hardrock mining on U.S. public lands—such as the gold mining that resulted in the recent Gold King Mine spill in southwestern Colorado—deliver the lowest return and highest costs to taxpayers, followed closely by coal mining and oil and gas drilling.

Policies governing the development of geothermal, solar, and wind energy on public lands deliver better value and lower costs to taxpayer, although the report identifies reforms that are needed for all resource types.

“Most of the policies governing hardrock mining, coal extraction, and oil and gas drilling on America’s public lands belong in a museum, not today’s business world,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, Senior Fellow and Director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. “Until coal loopholes are closed, mining laws are updated, and drilling royalties are brought up to market levels, taxpayers and local communities will continue to get a raw deal from resource extraction on their public lands.”

The report notes that America’s hardrock mining program is still governed by a law passed in 1872 to promote westward expansion. The law’s legacy is characterized by open mineshafts, leached tailing waste, and the recent mine disaster on a tributary of the Colorado River.

“Resource extraction—be it oil, gold, wind, coal, or solar—are important uses of our national public lands. But in exchange for the privilege of conducting business on our lands, taxpayers have an expectation that they will receive a fair return for development. Our research shows that this is not the case across the board,” said Greg Zimmerman, Policy Director at the Center for Western Priorities.

The Fair Share Scorecard notes that the Obama administration has taken steps to modernize energy leasing and development on U.S. public lands. In a speech earlier this year, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called for reforms “to improve the way we do business” and to ensure that the “American taxpayer is getting a fair return for the use of natural resources on public lands.”

As part of Secretary Jewell’s reform efforts, the Department of the Interior, or DOI, is currently holding public listening sessions across the West to explore how the agency can better ensure taxpayers are receiving a fair return from coal mining. DOI also recently signaled that it intends to update the rules that govern royalties, rents, and bonding requirements for oil and gas drilling on public lands.

The Fair Share Scorecard outlines three principles for reform to ensure American taxpayers receive a fair share from development:

  • Provide assurance that American taxpayers are receiving a fair return from development
  • Guarantee transparency
  • Require companies to account for impacts and pay the full cost of development

Read the full report, “Fair Share Scorecard” by Greg Zimmerman, Claire Moser, Jessica Goad, Matt Lee-Ashley

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at [email protected] or 202.481.7141.