Light and Heat and and Paychecks and Taxes: Contributions of Federal Minerals

Coal train rolls through Denver from Wyoming.

Pileated Woodpecker made this comment here on this post about the Outdoor Industry and Bears Ears.

There is, I think, a very critical reason why the issue now is not the same, or at least is not perceived that way: the water produced by damming Hetch Hetchy benefited a great many people. The profits produced by uranium, coal and other public lands resource extraction do *not* benefit a great many people. (Or so the perception goes; I’m not going to try and adjudicate those claims in this space.)

A few working-class people and locals get the crumbs that fall off the table, so to speak, but most of the money is going to upper management and capital holders. Meanwhile the environmental and opportunity costs get sloughed onto the public.

If public lands are being used to support prosperous, fair, resilient rural economies, most people — including most environmentalists — have no problem whatsoever with that. If they’re used to support the economics of the Zinke class, it’s a different story.

Well, maybe we should discuss those claims..

Woodpecker’s point was that reservoirs benefit many people, and compares that to profits produced by resource production/extraction. But public benefits and profits are two different things. Maybe I’ve reviewed too many coal and oil and gas EISs and lawsuits, but I would argue that providing heat and electricity is indeed a public value. Producing energy domestically has security and resilience advantages. This report quotes:

“Oil and gas production from federal lands accounted for $1.6 billion in total state revenue last year — a whopping 26 percent of New Mexico’s total budget.”
You can look up your own state’s and national contributions here’s from this 2016 DOI report.

Everyone can also look up the source of their state’s energy in this very nice EIA website. Here’s a link to Colorado’s and you can change to your own state. If you are in Denver, for say, a trade association meeting, you are fueled by coal, much of which comes from the feds in Wyoming (the surface is some federal, some state, some private, but all the minerals are federal). You can watch the coal trains come through Denver, seems like almost continuously, on their way to power plants.. So it wouldn’t be too much to say that today, coal and oil and gas keep the lights on in Colorado. You might think “well they should produce oil and gas and coal on private land, not public surface.” But if you were in Colorado, you would see that some of that oil and gas development is close to town, which causes its own issues. And minerals tend to be where they are.. you either get them or you don’t, you can’t move them to where it’s convenient. If you live around here, your neighbors may work in the energy and supporting businesses, office jobs, field jobs, driving trucks, geologists or executives and they are generally paid better than other industries. That’s why people work there despite the boom and bust nature of the business. Certainly all of that is not from federal land in a given state, but you can check this BLM report to see how much the federal portion contributes.

You can rate also industries by 1) the intrinsic goodness and necessity of the product 2) How many jobs do they provide and how much do those jobs pay? 3) How much of the profits do the shareholders keep for themselves? How much are their execs paid? 4) Are they environmentally and socially responsible? But you would have to find the data and compare them, and I suspect that there is a great variation within an industry as well as between industries.

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