Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues

Photo Source Chovee | CC BY 2.0

Few presidents have had a worse week than Donald Trump had last week. The wheels are coming off his presidency while a tidal wave of legal problems washes over him, his family and the White House as former associates continue to spill their guts about his corruption to federal and state prosecutors in attempts to get leniency for crimes committed on Trump’s behalf. Perhaps sensing that their time in power is coming to an end, this most corrupt administration in recent history is rushing to pillage what’s left of our nation’s dwindling natural resources by leasing huge plots of public lands to resource extraction industries.

It’s worth noting that the old and worn excuse of national “energy independence,” the myth used for so long to justify opening public lands to drilling and mining, is no longer even marginally credible. Why? Because the U.S. just became a “net exporter” of oil and gas. That’s right — not only do we have enough energy resources to fuel our domestic needs, the ever-greedy energy corporations are now sucking those resources down to ship publicly owned resources overseas — including to our primary economic competitors in the global marketplace.

Does this make any sense for America’s present and future generations? Well, it does if you own an energy mega-corporation, since that’s where the profits go, but for those who cherish what’s left of the incredible natural legacy with which our nation was blessed it provides only loss, not gain.

Take last week’s giveaway by Montanan and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of 174,000 acres of Alaskan wilderness that brought in a piddling $1.5 million in lease revenue. That comes to a whopping $8.62 an acre. In the meantime, there’s a headlong rush to offer 65 million acres of off-shore leases in the Arctic Ocean, which hold the potential for vast environmental damage that, at this time, cannot be mitigated in the event of a spill or full-blown DeepWater-type drilling platform disaster.

Nor has Montana escaped the carnage as Zinke’s Bureau of Land Management reported last week that it had leased 12,500 acres for oil and gas drilling in eastern Montana for $538,000. That will pay for just over two hours of flying Air Force One — about half of a one-way trip to Montana from Washington, D.C. — and Trump made four trips here and back this year to pound Sen. Jon Tester and campaign for his losing Senate candidate Matt Rosendale. But there goes another 20 square miles of habitat for imperiled sage grouse, sacrificed for virtually nothing.

The sheer insanity of the Trump administration’s “global energy dominance” goal means even national monuments such as Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bear’s Ears must be sacrificed to excess fossil fuel production. Not only did the administration chop the original 1.9 million acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante in half, it slashed the 1.35 million acre Bear’s Ears down to 16 percent of its original designation. And now those precious and fragile public lands, containing irreplaceable Anasazi cliff dwellings, paintings and incredible vistas will be ravaged for oil, gas and coal.

Christmas is coming, and it’s a sure bet Trump and Zinke’s stockings will be filled with lumps of coal. But for the rest of us, especially generations yet to come, there’s no avoiding the harsh reality that our national treasures and heritage are being plundered to further enrich already vastly wealthy energy corporations. The good news is that President Trump is circling the drain — and not a minute too soon his disastrous reign of environmental terror will end.


George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.