Monday, September 28, 2015

Sweet U.S. Government Land Deals Charge Up Energy Companies

When most Americans think of federal lands, pristine national parks like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone come to mind. But American taxpayers actually own much more than that—nearly 650 million acres, almost 30 percent of the land area of the U.S. Among other uses, the government leases tracts to energy companies for far less than fair market value, some as low as $2 an acre, and they in turn run lucrative, carbon-based resource extraction operations that produce nearly a quarter of U.S. energy-related emissions, and nearly 4 percent of global carbon emissions. On Monday, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) will release a report titled “Public Lands, Private Profits: How the U.S. Government is Giving Away America’s Shared Natural Resources to the Wealthiest Companies in the World” that contends the U.S. government’s leasing system is “antiquated,” allowing carbon extractors to take advantage of fire sale prices while also exacerbating global warming. Researchers at the San Francisco-based environmental nonprofit combed through U.S. Bureau of Land Management lease records and found some of the world’s largest conglomerates—Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell among them (RAN dubbed the top federal leaseholders “The Filthy 15”), along with many smaller, independent energy companies—holding millions of acres for the purposes of fracking, drilling and coal mining, all leased at “nominal” fees. Even the Mormon Church’s tax-exempt financial arm is in on the action.  The report points to what it calls “shady dealers,” including Colorado-based Cloud Peak, the fourth largest leaseholder of federal lands for coal development. Cloud Peak operates almost exclusively in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, where the current plan could lead to 28 coal leases involving more than 100,000 acres of public land and more than 10 billion tons of coal mined, exported and burned over the next two decades, according to the report. “Cloud Peak’s shady method is to sell its own coal cheaply within its network of thirty subsidiary companies, pay royalties to the government on these low-cost transactions, and then export the coal to sell at a higher price in Asia,” the report states. “This way, Cloud Peak doesn’t have to pay royalties on the true value of the coal that its subsidiaries receive in foreign markets. Cloud Peak also owns some of the cheapest rights to mine for federal coal, and pays Indigenous tribes even less for rights to mine on their land.”...more 

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