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A Democratic approach to energy: promote the interests of citizens, not industry

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Donald Trump claims to have an “America First” energy plan. His administration’s actions over the past 10 months have made it clear that what he truly puts first are the interests of oil, gas and coal executives. Everyday Americans and our iconic American landscapes come last, if he considers them at all.

Time after time Trump has capitulated to oil and gas industry deregulatory demands by gutting safety standards, decreasing royalty rates, advantaging fossil fuels, ignoring the threats of climate change, suppressing data, and minimizing the role of science at every turn. Republicans used to label their policies “energy independence” and now call it “energy dominance,” but it looks more like the ransacking of our public lands and the fleecing of American taxpayers.

{mosads}The public wants a smarter way forward – an energy strategy that prioritizes renewables, takes climate change seriously, and returns balance to how we manage our public lands. That’s why 17 of my colleagues and I just introduced the “Sustainable Energy Development Reform Act”, a bill designed to benefit everyday citizens instead of lining industry pockets. It offers a way forward for our nation’s energy development that balances our need for power with the health, environmental and economic interests of working people.

For years, companies have reaped outrageous profits from the extraction of natural resources that belong to all Americans. The royalty rates, rental charges, and other fees associated with development have not kept pace with inflation, let alone the environmental and social costs of mining and drilling. Right now extraction companies get a sweetheart deal – public land drilling rights for as little as $1.50 per acre, a rate far below those charged on state or private land – and local communities get elevated ozone levels, contaminated water and scarred landscapes.

Polluters don’t just enjoy amazing financial benefits from working on public lands. They take advantage of huge regulatory loopholes in our environmental laws, including several that Republicans in Congress gave them in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 on the recommendation of Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Oil and gas companies already hold nearly 8,000 approved permits they’re not using. They don’t need more handouts or weaker leasing standards.

The Sustainable Energy Development Reform Act takes a more realistic approach. It makes sure that oil, gas and coal companies don’t enjoy more benefits on public land than hunters, fishers, campers, and any other users of public land. It makes fossil fuel companies pay a fair amount to drill or mine, closes environmental loopholes, and requires the federal government to take climate change seriously and plan for it, not ignore it.

It makes overdue reforms to drilling safety standards – which should have been made in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster – that Congressional Republicans have willfully avoided. It protects the health of people living near fossil fuel operations by restricting the amount of methane that can be leaked into the air and the amount of coal mine waste that can be dumped into streams. And it takes real steps to encourage the development of renewable energy, instead of just paying lip service to it. In short, it views our treasured natural landscape as a resource in its own right, to be managed carefully and protectively, and not simply as a cash cow to be exploited or dominated for unsustainable short-term profits.

Donald Trump ran his campaign against what he called a rigged system. But as with so many other sectors of our economy, Trump and the Republican Party have only made it easier for special corporate interests to rig our energy laws. Fossil fuel companies have already called the shots for far too long, enabled by a complicit Republican Party dripping in oil wealth.

We have to put an end to this. The oil and gas industry wants to drill everywhere, mine everything and pass on the costs to the public. Our bill puts our health and a livable environment ahead of those demands.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

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