Trump’s looming scandal of fossil fuel subsidies on federal lands

Trump’s looming scandal of fossil fuel subsidies on federal lands
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President TrumpDonald TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers MORE’s energy policies have established a wide-spread effort to rig the economy in favor of big energy and mining companies at the expense of the American public, while burying the evidence in secrecy.

Early on, the Trump administration and Congress acted to keep its energy giveaways secret by repealing requirements that fossil fuel companies disclose publicly their tax, royalty and lease payments to federal and state governments. The rule, which had bipartisan support when it was included in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, was part of a 50-plus nation anti-corruption movement — an effort Zinke has announced the U.S. will abandon.


For other countries, disclosing government payments by oil, gas, and coal companies is aimed at detecting bribes. In the U.S., the overturned rule would have revealed how little those companies pay in taxes, public royalties and lease payments. Researchers and reporters could have tracked the hidden subsidies to fossil fuel companies — information those companies do not want the public to know.


This first step by the Trump administration to keep subsidies secret was a setup for enormous actions to convert public lands into profit centers for oil, gas and coal corporations at great cost to the public and with a reckless disregard of the law. These actions include:

Fossil fuel subsidies cause real harm. In October, the magazine Nature published a major study showing that at $50 a barrel for oil, nearly half of the oil production would be unprofitable except for federal subsidies. Simply put: oil production is propped up by public welfare.

While unjustified subsidies for fossil fuels have long existed, their expansion in the Trump administration in the face of climate change is a disgraceful scandal. Keeping the subsidies secret is unconscionable. 

For years, public interest groups have worked separately on parts of these problems. Some focused on bribery and influence peddling by energy companies. Tax justice groups fought to end unjustified tax breaks. Conservation groups resisted giveaways of public lands and minerals. Meanwhile, not enough has been done to create sustainable opportunities for communities and workers.

The separate efforts have yielded too little progress. It is time for citizen groups and concerned officials to launch coordinated efforts to end the hidden subsidies to fossil fuel companies, stop Trump and Zinke’s giveaways, and develop a better future for public lands and the people who depend on them.

Dan Bucks served as director of Montana’s Department of Revenue from 2005-2013, and executive director of the Multistate Tax Commission from 1988-2004.