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Paul Eaton and Kate Hoit: The antiquated federal oil and gas leasing system is the real national security threat

Leasing system favors corporations at the expense of the taxpayers.

(Brennan Linsley | AP file photo) In this March 29, 2013, photo, workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation outside Rifle, in western Colorado. The Interior Department said Friday, Feb. 12, 2021 that it is postponing onshore and offshore oil lease sales planned for next month in line with President Joe Biden's executive order on climate change.

President Joe Biden took a common-sense, yet long-overdue, step to pause new oil and gas leasing on federal public lands and review the federal leasing system to make sure it is working the way it is supposed to — something that has not happened in decades.

This sent a strong signal to the public, including to those in uniform, that the Biden administration is prepared to make the lands that belong to everyone, work for everyone. We can no longer afford a system that lets oil and gas CEOs lease our public lands for cut-rate prices at the expense of the rest of us.

After nearly 40 years in the Army between us, and civilian careers working to connect veterans with their democracy, we know this is not how the lands we served to protect and our communities should be treated. The president’s widely supported action is the only way forward to keep our landscapes accessible for future generations.

This prudent pause gives the administration a chance to review a leasing program that came about before the existence of commercial air travel and widespread car ownership, to examine what needs fixing. Unfortunately, but predictably, the oil and gas industry is using this announcement as an opportunity to intensify their decades-long public relations war; going to great lengths to mislead the public into believing the Biden administration’s actions were something they were not.

Among the most egregious falsehoods they parrot is that pausing leasing somehow threatens our national security. Make no mistake: the true threat is a leasing system that forces us to subsidize oil and gas CEOs instead of protecting our outdoor legacy and investing in education, health care and infrastructure that strengthen the fabric of our nation and our global standing.

It is clear the Biden administration acted based on facts, not the tired talking points from these CEOs. The current leasing system has been criticized by many, including the Government Accountability Office, as being in dire need of reform after decades of lax oversight and fiscal mismanagement. Because of this inaction, taxpayers lose at nearly every step.

Grossly outdated royalty rates cost taxpayers at least $12.4 billion in lost revenue between 2010-2019 while antiquated reclamation bonding rates, which are supposed to protect taxpayers when companies are unable or unwilling to clean-up their drilling sites — an increasingly common occurrence — could add at least $330 million to taxpayers’ bill.

For these reasons, it was absolutely appropriate for the Biden administration to pause leasing. Instead of spending limited government time and resources issuing leases for lands without oil potential or that did not receive a competitive bid at auction, the administration can comprehensively review the system, and take the time to get it right. And in tackling issues like the orphaned oil well crisis, they can create good-paying jobs for some of the hundreds of thousands of unemployed veterans while strengthening local economies.

The administration has our support, along with a diverse range of advocates. This long list includes nearly three quarters of western voters, conservative groups, taxpayer advocates, local elected officials from New Mexico, Colorado and elsewhere. Even national Republicans, like Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, have signaled their support for modernizing the federal oil and gas leasing system. With such broad support, President Biden should take comfort in knowing he made the right decision. His administration should continue to act boldly as they move forward with oil and gas leasing reform.

Paul Eaton

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Paul Eaton served more than 30 years in the U.S. Army. He currently serves as senior advisor of Vet Voice Foundation, a nonpartisan foundation that helps veterans become leaders in our nation’s democracy through participation in the civic process.

Kate Hoit

Kate Hoit is the western states director of Vet Voice Foundation, she served for eight years in the U.S. Army.

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