Amid the growing call for President Barack Obama to end the leasing of federal lands for fossil fuel development, a new report published Monday exposes the energy corporations profiting most from this public pillaging.
The report (pdf), put forth by the Rainforest Action Network, compiles the top federal leaseholders—dubbed the "Filthy 15"—in each of three fossil fuel arenas: coal mining, onshore oil and gas drilling, and offshore oil and gas drilling.
Perhaps not surprisingly, fossil fuel heavyweights including ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Arch Coal are among the companies paying as little as $2 an acre to mine taxpayer-owned forests, prairies, deserts, and bodies of water. These corporations, states the report, "generate millions in profit each year off of our shared national resources while damaging our environmental legacy for generations to come."
The report also highlights some of the lesser-known companies and describes how they are "flying under the radar of government regulation and enforcement."
"We are seeing energy companies making millions off the public land giveaway. These companies have well documented track records of environmental destruction, violations of Indigenous sacred sites, systematic evasions of royalty payments, and passing on the massive clean up costs associated with their operations to the public. This is the worst of the worst," said RAN campaigner and report co-author, Ruth Breech.
Further, in addition to the greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals routinely emitted from their extraction activities, the report notes that 12 of the top leaseholders "have been responsible for major environmental disasters," including "offshore oil spills, explosions, pipeline ruptures, household water contamination, abandoned mines, and Clean Air and Clean Water Act violations."
Earlier this month, more than 400 organizations sent a letter to Obama calling on him to stop new leasing of public lands for fossil fuel development, arguing that the cost of further development "to our land, climate, and communities is too high."
"The science is clear that, to maintain a good chance of avoiding catastrophic levels of warming, the world must keep the vast majority of its remaining fossil fuels in the ground," the groups wrote. "Federal fossil fuels—those that you control—are the natural place to begin."
The U.S. government is entrusted with the stewardship of nearly 650 million acres of public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf. An estimated 67 million acres of these lands are already leased to the fossil fuel industry.