For far too long, Montana has been subjected to federal oil and gas leasing policies that do not serve our communities’ best interests. The leasing program, which has not undergone comprehensive review and reform in decades, treats Montana’s public lands as a mere commodity to be sold to oil and gas speculators at the expense of our communities and businesses that rely on public lands. But recent common-sense actions from the Biden administration have outlined a new future that would better serve us all.
When the administration paused on all new oil and gas leases on federal public lands, it set out to review the broken system and work with Congress to pass sensible, bipartisan reforms.
Recently Dan Bucks, former Director of the Montana Department of Revenue, released a report analyzing in detail just how ill-suited the current leasing system is for Montana and the West. The report also provides recommendations for reforming the system to restore balance to our public lands, just as the Biden administration aims to do now.
As business and conservation leaders in the state, we were pleased to see Bucks’ report and digest his recommendations. His goals for the federal leasing program revolve around the overarching mandate for the Interior Department to “return full and fair value to the public from federal public lands.”
To do this, the department and Congress must work together to ensure that the government collects sufficient revenue from oil and gas activities on public lands, protects the public’s ability to hunt, hike, fish, and graze on public lands, and prioritizes transparency and public participation at every stage of the leasing process.
Montanans are clearly not receiving fair-market value for the use of their resources, and the Interior Department’s review now provides the right opportunity for the department to start better managing Montana’s public lands in order to return full and fair value to the public.
Some loopholes in the system are particularly egregious. For example, noncompetitive leasing — which lets oil and gas CEOs scoop up public lands in backroom deals for just $1.50 per acre — has led to leasing on hundreds of thousands of acres in the state for next to nothing. Furthermore, outdated royalty, rental, and other fiscal rates encourage speculation, shortchanging taxpayers for our public resources.
Businesses and public lands users across the West suffer when our cherished landscapes are leased to speculators for next to nothing without any accountability for a fair return. By law, these lands are meant to be managed for their multiple uses — not to elevate one industry above all others.
Bucks’ report is an essential contribution to the ongoing discussion about the future of federal oil and gas leasing. It provides an expert analysis of the long-standing problems with the current system and some important recommendations for the future.
The Biden administration’s pause and review seek to reframe the management of our iconic federal public lands for the best interest of all communities, not just the industries that have relied on getting sweetheart deals for far too long. As the Interior Department works with Congress to reimagine the leasing program, Dan Bucks’ report provides an important roadmap for the future of land management in Montana and across the West.