Energy revenues disbursed to Utah, other states nothing to crow about (OPINION)

rocky mountain power pollution coal burning plant

Energy production fuels income generation and job creation and can help pay down our nearly $15 trillion national debt. The income part of that equation is apparent in the numbers the Department of the Interior released this past week, which showed Utah reaped more than $149 million in energy royalties during fiscal year 2011.

Of the nearly $2 billion in energy royalties the Interior Department disbursed to 37 states for their share of oil, gas and other mineral production within their borders, Utah ranked fourth. Only Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado received more.

All told, the Interior Department collected roughly $11.1 billion during the fiscal year that just concluded. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar touted the numbers as evidence of “significant domestic energy production” – money that is a “critical revenue stream for governments … in light of current economic conditions.”

While I agree with his assessment on the critical importance of those revenues, especially with respect to deficit reduction, I think the numbers the Interior Department released are nothing to crow about. When weighed against the figures provided by energy producers in Utah and other western states, it is clear the numbers could, and should, be much higher.

For instance, the Bureau of Land Management, under the direction of the Interior Department, is withholding more than $100 million worth of leases in Utah and Wyoming that it had already auctioned off. The Administration has also obstructed energy production on federal leases at every turn. With national unemployment at 9 percent, the federal government is holding energy producers’ capital in limbo instead of allowing its use in the private sector to develop domestic energy and create jobs.

Withholding such leases prevents Utah and other states from claiming their 48 percent share of energy royalties. With states in the Rocky Mountains collectively struggling with budget shortfalls totaling about $2 billion dollars during this tough economy, the impact is enormous.

This Administration’s domestic energy policies are holding Utahns and other Americans hostage to environmental extremists and jeopardizing our national security by making us more dependent on oil from foreign nations, many of which are not our friends.

A survey of energy producers in the West by the Western Energy Alliance found that they have responded to the Obama’s harsh regulatory climate for domestic energy production in the West by shipping more than a billion dollars to other areas, including overseas. They also have frozen another $3 billion in future investments in the area until the regulatory climate thaws.

Despite the damage inflicted by this Administration, Utah’s energy industry remains vitally important. It is an $8.5 billion industry that pays out $500 million in wages per year to 20,000 workers in Utah, according to the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Still, we have scarcely begun to tap our state’s vast energy potential.  Utah, Wyoming and Colorado have an estimated 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil just in oil shale. That is about three times the amount of Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves. Imagine what we could do if the Obama administration got out of the way, thus unleashing Utah and other states to oversee the responsible production of domestic energy within their respective boundaries.

More domestic energy production means more high-paying jobs and lower energy costs. It also keeps U.S. dollars at home instead of being shipped abroad to pay for oil from countries that are smart enough to develop their own energy resources. That is just what the doctor ordered to help jumpstart our moribund economy and cut our national debt.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration and the anti-oil crowd in Congress are too busy kow-towing to radical environmentalists to catch the vision and see the vital connection between a sound, and sane, domestic energy policy and a robust economy.

To help them get the picture, I have made domestic energy development a major part of my jobs plan. I will continue to lead the fight to free our domestic energy producers from this Administration’s job-killing regulations. Utahns want more domestic energy than this Administration will deliver, and I won’t settle for anything less.

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