The COMPETES Act Would Prevent Oil and Gas Companies From Leasing Public Lands at Little to No Cost

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) announced her original co-sponsorship of the Competitive Onshore Mineral Policy via Eliminating Taxpayer-Enabled Speculation (COMPETES) Act. This legislation, introduced by Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO), would end the current practice of leasing non-competitive taxpayer-owned public lands to private oil and gas companies for as little as $1.50 per acre. Non-competitive leasing is often abused by companies who nominate lands for auction with no intention of bidding on them so they can acquire them later at a minimal cost. 

“The current federal oil and gas program is not working and we need to address the problems around non-competitive leasing to protect our public lands and American taxpayers,” said Senator Rosen. “The COMPETES Act will bring an end to giveaways for private speculation and boost conservation and outdoor recreation in Nevada by finally requiring oil and gas companies to pay fair market value for public lands.” 

BACKGROUND: Currently, any federal land that fails to lease at oil and gas leasing auctions is later made available through a first-come-first-serve, non-competitive leasing process for only $1.50 per acre and a nominal filing fee. 

A 2020 Government Accountability Office report found that roughly 99% of lands leased non-competitively never produced oil or gas in paying quantities. Further, these lands generated less than 2% of federal royalties, despite accounting for nearly 40% of acres leased. This is especially a problem in Nevada, where more than 2 million acres have been sold in this manner since January 2009.  The bill is supported by the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, Conservation Lands Foundation, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO), League of Conservation Voters, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nevada Wildlife Federation, Public Citizen, Public Land Solutions, Rocky Mountain Wild, The Wilderness Society, Western Organization of Resource Councils, and Wilderness Workshop.

In March, Senators Rosen and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced their bipartisan Fair Returns for Public Lands Act, legislation to update the nation’s outdated public lands royalty system and ensure that taxpayers and rural communities get fair returns on leases of public lands for oil and gas production. Representatives Katie Porter (D-CA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) have introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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